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 will see some reductions in emissions, but are likely to 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 were already delivering continual reductions in emissions – even for the rising numbers of diesel cars on the roads. Then came revelations that car manufacturers such as Volkswagen have been rigging diesel emission tests.
Politicians could simply stop the pollution epidemic 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 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 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. South of Hazel Grove the effect reverses: increases in traffic will generate more poisoned air.
The Bypass Business Case has claimed that the 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, even the Business Case’s statistical appendices reveal congestion worsening rather than improving – with or without the Bypass.
As the years go by, the changes in technology mentioned above could mean that increases in congestion are not accompanied by intensified emissions. This won’t make increased congestion a good thing or make acceptable levels of pollution that don’t break legal limits. Already there are virtually no breaches of legal limits on emissions in Stockport except on the motorway, yet there are still streets where the air seems thick with pollution.
Pollution below legal limits remains a threat to children in particular. There is a growing international consensus that schools should not be within 150 metres of busy roads. The 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 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 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)