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New map demonstrates scale of toxic air in Greater Manchester (Clean Cities)

news release

Ahead of the Air Quality Administration Committee meeting taking place this morning, campaigners from the coalition ‘Let Manchester Breathe’ are launching a new map of Greater Manchester, highlighting just how far we are from truly cleaning up our air. 

Recorded levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, Greater Manchester

The map shows nitrogen dioxide concentrations measured across the city region compared to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline limit, which is four times lower than the UK legal limit. Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas with serious health impacts, particularly for children and people with respiratory problems. In cities, road transport contributes a large share of the problem. Of the hundreds of sites where levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were measured by Greater Manchester authorities last year, only two were below the World Health Organization’s guideline limit.  111 were above the UK legal limit, meaning the remaining locations were legally compliant but still pose a risk to health. 

At the Air Quality Administration Committee meeting on Wednesday morning, councillors will agree whether or not to submit the latest version of  the Clean Air Plan to the government for approval. 

The GMCA’s modelling to demonstrate the potential results of the “investment-led” plan shows that there will still be many places within a hair’s breadth of the UK legal limit, which campaigners say lacks ambition. In a statement released today they said “Meeting the current legal limit is the lowest bar for success. As evidence mounts about the serious physical and mental health impacts of air pollution, we should be working on the ambitious solutions that keep us all safe by cleaning up our air to meet World Health Organization guidelines.”  

According to Sarah Rowe from the Clean Cities Campaign, “There’s nothing in the new plan to get us to a place of genuinely healthy air – it’s all about scraping under the legal limit, which just isn’t good enough. We’re glad to see a commitment to help taxi drivers upgrade to cleaner vehicles, and we fully support the move to an electric bus fleet. But the numbers of buses in the plan are relatively small and we also need to see support for cleaner vans, as well as more action to get people out of their cars.”  

Pete Abel from Manchester Friends of the Earth explained “reaching the legal limit is like celebrating a 40-a-day smoker reducing their intake to 39 cigarettes a day. It’s a small step, but it’s hardly the action for health that we need to see. The difference with air pollution is that we are talking about the impacts being felt by everyone in the region.” 

Defra data for 2022 put Manchester as the local authority with the highest level of NO2. Campaigners say this demonstrates that delay over the region’s clean air plans has meant valuable time has been lost in tackling the problem. 


For more information, contact Sarah Rowe. Email: 

Notes to editors

  • Let Manchester Breathe is a coalition of health and sustainable transport campaigners working in the city region.  
  • The map is based on data published by GMCA here.  
  • The UK legal limit for NO2 was supposed to be met by 2010 at the latest – 13 years ago. 
  • Table 8 in the Appraisal Report of the Evidence Submission for the new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan notes that there will be 65 sites in the ‘Compliant but marginal’ (35 to 40 µg/m3) category by the end of 2025 under the new plan. The WHO’s guideline limit is 10μg/m3.
  • In 2017, Greater Manchester became the first UK region to become a World Health Organisation (WHO) Breathe Life City Region pledging to meet WHO air quality limits by 2030.
  • In 2021, the World Health Organization updated its air quality guidelines in response to the “real and continued threat of air pollution to public health”, and in light of a much stronger body of evidence to show how air pollution affects different aspects of health. They reduced the limit for annual average exposure for Nitrogen Dioxide from 40μg/m3 to 10μg/m3.
  • The latest data from Defra shows that last year, Manchester had the highest NO2 concentrations of any local authority. 
  • Read the full statement from campaigners that was sent to committee members ahead of the meeting, here

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