Blog: Air quality: Sustainable Solutions for Greater Manchester

16th June 2017

On the UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day, 15 June 2017, City of Trees, Transport for Greater Manchester, and Jacobs came together to organize an event aimed at businesses on sustainable solutions for the problem of air pollution in Greater Manchester.

A blog by Hester Leyser, Intern for Creative Concern.

After a welcome speech by our chair for the day, Steve Connor of Creative Concern, a Manchester PR agency dedicated to sustainability and social change, Councillor Alex Ganotis Leader – Stockport MBC, GMCA lead member for environment, green spaces and air quality gave the first talk of the day.

After walking us through some of the grueling statistics, that air pollution contributes to the early death of nearly 40,000 people in the U.K. every year - roughly 2,000 Mancunians, Councillor Ganotis talked about the work being done to tackle this issue, calling for a cohesive approach at all levels of government.

He asked all of us in the audience to do our part by taking the Clean Air Pledge to reduce our contributions to air pollution (you can take the pledge at tfgm.com/pledge). He finished with a call to action; “An environmental agenda is not divorced from daily life. We need to make sure the people of greater Manchester have a safer and secure future.”

Next up we heard from Natasha Parker of Global Action Plan, one of the main charities involved in organizing the #NationalCleanAirDay campaign. She discussed the four main areas of issues around air pollution and the opportunities for improvements that Global Action Plan is focusing on: (1) Low public understanding, (2). Poor avoidance knowledge; (3). Under-utilized health workers and (4). Making personal health connections.

To finish up, she showed a video of a young boy names Joe who is living with asthma in Manchester. Watch Joe’s story below.

To discuss the specific factors contributing to air pollution in Greater Manchester we heard from Matthew O’Neill, Air Quality Officer for Transport for Greater Manchester, and Jacobs’ Nigel Bellamy. They described the ways vehicles release particulate matter and the ways that Manchester is currently monitoring the levels of air pollution. A map showing the levels of air pollution in Manchester city centre demonstrated the point that even by just walking on side streets and avoiding main roads when possible, we can greatly reduce the levels of air pollution we are exposed to.

We then heard about the impact of poor air quality on our health from Sarah McFadyen of the British Lung Foundation and Dr. Rosemary McCann of Public Health England North West. In the short-term, all of us can experience respiratory problems, especially children, the elderly, and people with lung problems such as Asthma. In the long-term, air pollution puts all of us at risk of developing more serious conditions such as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Sarah McFayden also shared a shocking statistic that over 2,000 schools or nurseries are in areas with illegal levels of air pollution -- including 20 in Manchester, particularly worrying when we realise that the legal limits are not even necessarily safe.

The Chief Executive of TfGM Dr. Jon Lamonte then spoke about some of the innovations Greater Manchester is using to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. By increasing public transport, using hybrid busses (Manchester has the most in the U.K. outside of London), retrofitting older buses to reduce their emissions by 88%, using bus priority packages, encouraging electric cars with new charging stations, and introducing the cycle lines on the Oxford road which has caused cycling numbers to double, Manchester is making improvements.

Next up, City of Trees’ Pete Stringer spoke about the role trees can play in improving air quality. Trees can absorb noxious gases, including nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, as well as removing pollution by intercepting ultrafine and very harmful particulate matter from the air. Trees outside of homes can even reduce the levels of particulate matter inside a house by 50%. City of Trees called for trees and other green infrastructure to be part of the solution to tackling poor air quality.

The final speakers were Donald Morrison of Jacobs, and Kevin Moss from Sparta Digital, a CityVerve partner, who discussed innovative and sustainable solutions. Donald Morrison spoke of the role businesses can play, and the way that Manchester can lead this sustainable industry globally, while Kevin Moss talked about the way data collection and technology can be used to improve air quality and a cleaner environment.

To finish the day, the audience were invited to ask our panel of speakers questions and contribute to the discussion. Many people asked about how they can get involved, as well as questions about the role other plants can play in reducing pollution, and the costs to the public of more lung diseases caused by poor air quality.

We finished on a positive and optimistic note, as the speakers concluded their final thoughts, saying that awareness and public interest in the issue is growing so quickly, and that together we can have a huge impact.

Attendees saw a video pledge from Andy Burnham and were asked to fill out a pledge card, saying what one action they would do.

Thank you to all of the speakers, the attendees, and all of the organisers for a great even. One final quote from a City Council member accurately sums up the day: "Cars are bad, trees are dead good."

The slides are available to download below, as well as a copy of the 'Breathe, you've gone green' report.