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People in Manchester 'exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution'

Dangerous levels of air pollution are having a devastating impact on the health of people living in Greater Manchester and costing the regional economy £1bn every year, according to a new study.

The report found that toxic air is reducing life expectancy in the region by an average six months and, over the next century, estimates “1.6 million life years” will be lost unless action is taken.

The report by IPPR North comes ahead of a national air pollution conference being held in Salford on Thursday.

The thinktank’s director, Sarah Longlands, said the “human cost of the air pollution crisis” in the city could not be overstated.

“People’s lives are being cut short, our children’s health is being put at risk and this is before you even consider the £1bn annual economic burden that poor quality air places on the local economy.

“For too long, the debate on air pollution has been focused on London. But now for the first time, we understand the full extent of the problem in Greater Manchester. We simply cannot allow this to continue.”

The study says the Manchester region faces a similar air pollution challenge – caused principally by transport emissions – to London where the mayor Sadiq Khan recently outlined plans for an extended ultra low emissions zone. But it concludes Manchester has neither the powers nor the strategy to tackle the issue.

The report found:

  • Central Manchester has the highest rate of emergency hospital admissions for asthma in England, more than double the national average. North Manchester comes in second place.
  • Manchester council ranks as the second worst in England for PM10 particulate pollution, which is linked to conditions such as lung cancer and asthma.
  • Hotspots for dangerous air quality include Manchester’s Oxford Road, which exceeded legal limits 90 times during 2016.

It also found that the region has one of the worst polluting bus fleets in the UK, with 20% of the fleet made up of the most polluting vehicles, compared with just 10% in London. Only 15 buses are entirely electric, compared with more than 500 in London.

The report calls on Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham – who will address Thursday’s conference, to take urgent action and for the national government to give the city the powers and funds necessary to tackle air pollution.

Alison Cook, policy director at the British Lung Foundation, said the report showed Manchester was one of the most polluted places in the UK.

“This report provides more detail on the health impact of air pollution on the city than we’ve had before,” she said. “Ambitious and concrete measures from the mayor and central government must now follow, such as rolling out charging zones in the most polluted areas.”

ClientEarth, which has successfully taken the government to court three times over its lack of action on air pollution said the study would make “worrying reading” for people in the city.

“While the UK government continues to drag its feet over its legal and moral duty to meet legal limits of air pollution in the shortest time possible, it is essential that local and regional leaders, including the mayor of Greater Manchester, do everything they can to protect people’s right to breathe clean air.”

Burnham said the report set out in “stark terms” the level of threat air pollution poses to health in Greater Manchester.

He said a range of measures were already in place or being planned, but added: “We also need a comprehensive national strategy to support our local work – backed by substantial, up-front investment from the government – so that we can all work together to tackle this serious problem that is affecting us all.”

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