Communities, traffic and positive action to address air pollution
Air pollution levels in Greater Manchester are some of the highest in the UK. As air pollution can potentially worsen pre-existing health conditions, Greater Manchester residents are increasingly concerned about the high rates of air pollution and are seeking to find practical, place-based solutions to tackle the issue. In this article, Professor Sheena Cruickshank from The University of Manchester addresses the Ardwick Climate Action Community A6 closure event to show how road closures can help decrease air pollution levels and suggests the need to foster more place-based, community-centred solutions to tackle air pollution across Greater Manchester.
Air pollution in Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester (GM) has among the worse levels of pollution in the UK with around 1,200 yearly premature deaths attributed to air pollution and pollution monitoring stations frequently recording figures above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. As vehicular transport is a major contributor to pollution, reducing car use and enhancing active transport is a major GM strategic priority with initiatives to tackle pollution such as ‘Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone’. Plans to improve pavements and implement cycle lane networks have started in some boroughs of GM. The Bee Network started in 2018 and is a 10 year vision to revolutionise travel across the city of Manchester, making active travel the number one choice. However, this network does not encompass all parts of GM with some areas remaining pollution “hot spots”. One such area is Ardwick which is bordered by busy major roads including the A6 and the Mancunian Way.
Why should we take air pollution seriously?
Outdoor air pollution comes from numerous sources including vehicle exhausts, industrial waste and the burning of fuels and refuse. The WHO estimates that outdoor air pollution leads to 4.2 million deaths every year, mostly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and acute respiratory infections. Air pollution can also worsen pre-existing conditions. Indeed, allergy and asthma symptoms are worse in urban areas with high pollution. Similarly, health records in the Greater Manchester Combined Health Authority has shown that pollution worsened some outcomes of COVID-19. The health effects of air pollution are unevenly distributed across the population with groups, such as the elderly, children and those with pre-existing health conditions, being the most vulnerable. In addition, people living in deprived areas are among the most vulnerable citizens since they are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas with less access to high-quality medical care. Working to tackle pollution and ensure clean air is a UK priority as demonstrated by the clean air strategy and Clean Air Day national campaigns.
The Ardwick Climate Action Community A6 Closure Event
Research we have conducted with residents and S4B (a housing authority) in Ardwick in GM and GM council in Manchester communities revealed multiple barriers to take-up of active travel, including safety fears. Residents are concerned about the impacts of pollution on their health and, particularly, their children’s health. Indeed, analysis of pollution levels near several GM schools including the primary school in Ardwick revealed high levels of pollution.
To highlight this issue, Ardwick Climate Action closed a section of the A6 for a few hours with the local community. This road closure also launched a programme of activity by residents to start planting and nurturing green spaces to try and offset the pollution. The closure was supported by staff and students from The University of Manchester. Some pollution measurements were taken during and after the road closure.
To see if the road closure affected the level of black carbon – a good indicator for combustion related air pollution – we tested the levels on a day that the road was open as usual to act as a comparison point for our data. The black carbon levels started higher on the day the road was open, which was likely due to the variant weather conditions on and leading up to the days of sampling, as traffic levels were consistent on both days. The results clearly show that there is a decrease in measured levels of black carbon on the day that the road was closed, which then increased as the road opened up again. Whereas, on the day that the road was continuously open, the black carbon levels never decreased and continued to rise as time went on.
The observation indicates that the closure of the A6 for the Community Festival had a positive impact on reducing black carbon concentrations in the ambient air surrounding the road compared to before and after the event. The road was reopened at 11:30 and monitoring was moved from the centre of the road to Ardwick Green, after which we saw black carbon levels increase. It has been previously shown, that in addition to measures to reduce traffic flow, that plants can help reduce the impact of pollution. These results highlight the need for more positive action to address the volume of traffic as well as enhance provision of green spaces in city centres.
Ways to move forward across Greater Manchester
Further analysis, and further measurements, are required to ascertain how we can enhance air quality. As well as increasing planting, we will seek to determine barriers that prevent residents walking in the area. By working with Ardwick residents in the Ardwick Climate Action Group, the GM community and NHS partners we will investigate how we can better join existing walking out with and in Ardwick. By using a participatory, active and creative approach with residents and artists we will capture local knowledge, amplify residents’ voices and provide a legacy of maps and way finders for the community to develop community paths and routes to enable safer active travel. Findings will be communicated with Manchester City Council to inform about barriers preventing active travel and feed into the GM active travel network plans and enhance the effectiveness of the long-term Greater Manchester Combined Authority strategy.
- Further analysis, and further measurements, are required to ascertain whether the closure to traffic had a significant effect on air quality.
- Place-based participatory research geared towards the needs of local communities should be favoured and adopted across GM in order to tackle air pollution levels.
- Further links between GMCA and its neighbourhoods should be developed to enhance the effectiveness of the long-term GMCA strategy.
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