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12 years (and counting) – Government still failing to tackle illegal toxic air in Greater Manchester

news release

On the first anniversary of the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan being ‘paused’, Manchester Friends of the Earth have slammed the Government’s continuing failure to prevent people in Greater Manchester from having to breathe illegal toxic air.

Since 2010, the government has failed to meet its legal obligations to reduce air pollution below the legal limits. In 2016, Client Earth won a court case that instructed the Government to meet the air quality limits in “the shortest time possible”. [1]

Despite a significant reduction in road traffic during the Covid pandemic lock-downs in 2020, data obtained from Transport for Greater Manchester via a Freedom of Information request highlighted that 8 of the 16 Nitrogen Dioxide monitoring sites across Greater Manchester which were above the legal limit of 40 ug/m3 in 2020 were located within the Inner Ring Road area. [2]  

Manchester Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to mandate Manchester and Salford City Councils to introduce an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) within the Manchester/Salford Inner Ring Road area. [3]  The evidence from London was that their ULEZ reduced roadside NO2 by 36% in the first six months of operation. (4)

In September 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced significant reductions in their air quality guidelines for a range of pollutants including NO2 and particulates. The  WHO guidance on NO2 was reduced from 40μg/m3 to 10μg/m3. [5]  Greater Manchester is a World Health Organisation ‘BreatheLife’ City Region and has pledged to meet WHO guidance limits on air pollution by 2030. [6]  However, the revised GM Clean Air Plan does not expect to meet the legal compliance level for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) of 40μg/m3 until 2027. [7]

Air pollution is a public health emergency.  In 2020, Asthma and Lung UK reported that Greater Manchester has “one of the highest rates in the country for emergency admissions in children with lower respiratory tract infections” [8] and a 2018 report by King’s College estimated that air pollution costs Greater Manchester £1.2 billion a year. [9] 

Catherine Thomson, Manchester Friends of the Earth coordinator said: “Toxic air pollution causes over 1000 people to die early each year in Greater Manchester, it is linked to a wide range of health impacts and causes untold damage to the lungs and development of our children.

“For over  12 years,  the Government has failed to ensure that people in Greater Manchester are not breathing illegal toxic air and the current legal air quality limits are not safe and are not fit for purpose.

“The GM Clean Air Plan was ‘paused’ a year ago and we are still waiting for the Government to make a decision whether the revised Clean Air plan can even go ahead.

“How many more children have to be harmed before our politicians stop making excuses and start taking action on this public health emergency?”Manchester Friends of the Earth is calling for a GM Clean Air Plan that tackles all polluting vehicles and makes use of the most effective measures to reduce air pollution in the shortest time possible.

Manchester Friends of the Earth wrote to Therese Coffey, the current Secretary of State for the Environment on 27th October 2022 urging the Government to reject the revised Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan and instruct the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to develop a plan that is effective, legally compliant and that will reduce air pollution to well below legal limits in the ‘shortest time possible’. [10]


Contact for comments: Pete Abel, Manchester Friends of the Earth clean air campaigner.  Email;  Mobile: 07951 642858

Notes for Editors

[1] Para 69. Whatever the reason for selecting 2020 may have been, however, I am satisfied that the department erred in law in selecting so distant a date. The problem of reducing nitrogen dioxide levels was urgent and the plan to do so should have been aimed at achieving compliance in the shortest possible time, regardless of administrative inconvenience or the costs of making the necessary investigations.    2/11/2016.

[2] The GM Clean Air Map does not display the 16 monitoring sites that were above the NO2 legal limit in 2020.  Manchester Friends of the Earth have mapped these sites on a Google Map.  Google Map link

[3] In January 2020, Manchester City councillors unanimously supported the council motion to: “Explore the feasibility of an ultra-low emission zone inside the Manchester/Salford Inner Ring Road.”

See also

[4]  See

[5] New WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines aim to save millions of lives from air pollution.

[6] See

[7] Page 22, Para 4.9.  The modelling indicates that exceedances would only remain in 2026 at one site, on the A57 Regent Road. All sites are predicted to be compliant by 2027 in the Do Minimum with CBF Grants scenario.

[8] Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation consultation response: Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan. December 2020 stated that:  “All ten Local Authority areas in the region have death rates of more than 4% each year that can be attributed to poor air quality4. From a lung disease perspective, the region has high rates of susceptibility to air pollution – in GM respiratory disease is second only to circulatory disease when it comes to unwarranted variation on total spend, bed occupancy and nonelective admissions.5  Over 72,900 people are registered with chronic obstructive disease (COPD) and 217,230 people are registered with asthma.6 GM has one of the highest rates in the country for emergency admissions in children with lower respiratory tract infections.7 And as for adults with chronic obstructive disease, the picture is equally as stark. Some areas of GM have more than twice the national average emergency admissions and almost double the national mortality rate.”

[9] Atmosphere: Towards a proper strategy for tackling Greater Manchester’s air pollution crisis. The levels of air pollution in Greater Manchester are lethal and illegal.

[10] See: Our letter to the Environment Secretary re: Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan.

[11] Manchester Friends of the Earth is an award-winning environmental campaign group, raising awareness and lobbying for policy changes at a local, regional, national and international level. The group consists entirely of volunteers, and its campaigns are funded by membership fees and individual donations. Up-to-date information is available on the group’s website: Manchester Friends of the Earth is a Licensed Local Group of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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