Greater Manchester should be combating traffic pollution with low-emission zones and other measures, not promoting roads that will increase the problem. The Hazel Grove-M60 bypass will spread pollution along its route as well as on congested feeder roads. Some other busy streets may see some reductions in emissions, but will remain significantly polluted.
Traffic fumes are by far the biggest killer on our streets. According to the latest official estimate, air pollution contributes to 50,000 deaths a year in the UK: vehicle emissions play a part in most of them. A war zone might have fewer fatalities. In comparison. 1,775 people died in road accidents in 2013.
Cancer, heart disease, asthma and emphysema can all be caused by air pollution. Effects of exposure may develop quickly or over many years. Children are particularly vulnerable even to low doses.
While traffic fumes are most dangerous in prolonged exposure within homes close to major roads, the highest concentrations are found within vehicles themselves. Frequent and professional drivers are at risk.
Regulations covering road pollution pre-date the millennium, but action has been lacking. The most recent Air Quality Directive from the European Union was incorporated into UK law in 2010 but not effectively enforced. The UK Supreme Court supported by the European Court ruled in 2014 that the UK Government must get serious about pollution by January 2015. Two years later the Government’s revised proposals, including low-emission zones, continue to be criticised as inadequate.
Official indifference to air pollution deaths is rooted in a belief that growth in road traffic is essential for economic progress. Until a few months ago indifference was reinforced by a delusion that developments in engine technology would deliver continual reductions in emissions – even for the rising numbers of diesel cars on the roads. Then came revelations last year that car manufacturers such as Volkswagen have been rigging diesel emission tests.
Politicians could simply stop the pollution massacre by ordering the phasing out of vehicles powered by conventional engines – starting with the main culprits, diesel HGVs and cars. Low- and no-emission alternatives are available. Germany is planning the end of the internal combustion engine in 2030, following a lead given by Norway.
Stockport’s toxic roads
Terrible rush-hour congestion in Stockport produces dangerous doses of pollution. Stockport Council’s combined M56-A6-M60 road offers no real solution because it will be locked into traffic growth on the motorway network. Any reductions achieved in pollution on streets in the Borough will be vulnerable to continuing increases in vehicle use.
At street level effects of the Airport road and bypass will vary. The Airport road may lessen pollution on the A6 from Hazel Grove northwards, although traffic will remain heavy. South of Hazel Grove the effect reverses: large increases in traffic will generate more poisoned air.
The Council seems to recognise that decreases in traffic and pollution north of Hazel Grove may not be sustained. Planning approval for the airport road included a commitment to extend bus and cycle lanes along the A6. The intention was to deter future traffic increases by reducing the road space available. The bus and cycle lanes were quickly dropped after Lord Stunell objected.
The A6-M60 bypass will cancel out reductions in pollution achieved by the airport road on the A6 at Stepping Hill. Pollution will be generated by a planned link road from the A6 to the bypass nearby, The bypass’s planned junction on Marple Road, Offerton may have similar polluting effects.
Supporters of road building in Stockport tend to argue that overall increases in emissions can be disregarded because traffic will be shifted from urban routes into fields. Such arguments have limited relevance to the route from the A6 to the M60: its central section in Offerton is close to houses although running through fields; in Bredbury houses are within spitting distance of the route. A tunnel in Bredbury will vent fumes at potentially illegal concentrations.
Roads carrying traffic towards the bypass will be another site of pollution, such as Marple’s clogged-up Dan Bank and, once again, the A6 from Furness Vale to High Lane.
Increases in pollution do not in themselves inhibit new road building; plans only need to be reconsidered if a breach of quite demanding legal limits is forecast. Back in the 2000s when an A6-M60 bypass was last under consideration, two breaches were predicted. In theory these could be enough to bring the bypass plan grinding to a halt. In practice, as we have seen, pollution law is something for government and officials to get around.
- SEMMMS Major Road Schemes Stage 2 Environmental Assessment (Full report PDF held by Stockport MBC)