There are twenty illegally polluted streets in the borough of Stockport, according to a recent statement by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The courts are finally compelling local councils to locate pollution and take action. Before the judges stepped in, Stockport Council ignored the menace of vehicle emissions – except where pollution could be misrepresented as an argument for building more roads. The consequence of this policy has been zero effective action.
Sine the beginning of the century, Stockport Council has been saying roads must be built to reduce pollution. The A6-Manchester Airport Road has finally been completed. Although some roads will benefit, it will worsen existing illegal pollution on the A6 south of Hazel Grove and along the A34. In the longer term, traffic generated by the new road could also bring increased pollution to other roads.
The proposed A6-M60 Bypass would spread pollution along its route as well as on congested feeder roads. The Council has made much of hoped-for reductions in emissions on some roads (such as the A6 north of Hazel Grove) if the Bypass is built, but tends to ignore the fact that pollution would be relocated to other areas, such as Offerton and Lower Bredbury.
The road death toll
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. 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 for people living close to major roads, the highest concentrations are found within vehicles themselves. Frequent and professional drivers are at risk.
Courts order action
Regulations covering road pollution have existed for decades, but action has been lacking. The British Government fought a long rearguard action in the courts against immediate enforcement of European emission limits but has at last run out of rope. Some local councils have been told to put together plans by the end of the year to deal with unlawful pollution.
Within Greater Manchester, the Combined Authority is producing urgent proposals to tackle illegal pollution from nitrogen dioxide.The measures may include a pollution charge on the dirtiest vehicles. A business case should appear in January 2019 followed by consultation.
Over the years, Stockport Council has failed to publish clear information about the extent of testing of air quality and the results. In a Freedom of Information response last year, the Council said the A6 at Stepping Hill was the only place in the borough breaching limits.
Thanks to Greater Manchester, we now know that the following Stockport roads break the limits for nitrogen dioxide: Chestergate, Corporation Street, Kingsway, Didsbury Road, Travis Brow, Ashton Road, Great Egerton Street, Knightsbridge, Stockport Road West, Buxton Road, London Road, Wellington Road North, Ashton Road, Hall Street, Spring Gardens, St Marys Way, Tiviot Way, Carrington Road, New Bridge Lane and Lancashire Hill. Sometimes only a short stretch of road breaks the limits. See the map at https://cleanairgm.com/clean-air-plan
However, the above list of 20 roads is not the full extent of pollution caused by vehicles in the borough. The worst polluters are the motorways; these are not included in the list because they are not controlled by local government.
In January 2018 a company called EarthSense produced air quality estimates for all post codes in the country. St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Heaton Norris next to the M60 had a particularly bad score.
Greater Manchester’s figures also do not include the new Airport Road, which will inevitably breach the limits in places, as well as having effects on other roads.
Another major source of deadly pollution is sooty particulates, particularly from diesel engines. Particulates are left out of the current activity by local authorities.
The source of the problem
Politicians could stop the pollution epidemic by ordering the phasing out of vehicles powered by conventional engines, preferably including a scrappage scheme – 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. The British Government has a less ambitious target of halting new sales of conventional engines in 2040 but will permit sales of hybrid cars.
Until compelled by the courts to take action against air pollution, the British government had been relying on improvements in engine efficiency and technology to reduce emissions. Revelations that VW had rigged the testing of its diesel cars’ emissions has made it harder to believe car manufacturers’ claims for their engines. Nevertheless increasing purchases of hybrid cars over the next decade will have an impact on pollution.
New roads – more traffic
Rush-hour congestion in Stockport produces pollution. Stockport Council’s combined M56-A6-M60 road offers no real solution because it will be locked into traffic growth. Any reductions achieved in pollution on some of the streets in the Borough will be vulnerable to continuing increases in vehicle use caused by new roads.
Last year’s Business Case claimed the A6-M60 Bypass will lessen total pollution because it will produce a reduction in queuing. However, the Business Case’s forecasting is seriously flawed, particularly by its failure to take into account increases in traffic caused by the Bypass. In the longer term, the Business Case’s statistical appendices reveal queuing worsening rather than improving – with or without the Bypass.
Pollution is a threat to children in particular. There is a growing international consensus that schools should not be within 150 metres of busy roads. The A6-M60 Bypass will run close to Dial Park Primary School, Offerton and the Overdale Centre in Romiley.
Supporters of road building in Stockport tend to argue that emissions caused by the Bypass 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 overlook 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 through Disley to High Lane.
Above all, the Bypass would be bad for pollution because it would be a very large investment in the dominance of cars and trucks in Stockport and surrounding areas. We need less dependency on petrol and diesel engines – the Bypass would do the opposite.
- SEMMMS Major Road Schemes Stage 2 Environmental Assessment (Full report PDF held by Stockport MBC)