Revealed: nitrogen dioxide levels were over the legal limit at 45 locations in Greater Manchester in 2021

The data, from the Clean Air Plan for the city-region, has sparked concern among green campaigners, but transport bosses insist cutting emissions is a top priority.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were above the legal limit in 45 places across Greater Manchester last year, data shows.

Information published by Clean Air GM from the Clean Air Plan monitoring for 2021 shows there were dozens of places in the city-region where levels of the harmful substance were higher than the targets set by the Government.

In addition, there were another 45 places thought to be at risk of exceeding NO2 legal levels.

The data has been greeted with concern by clean air campaigners who say not enough is being done, while the authorities have said they are determined to clean up Greater Manchester’s atmosphere.

What does the NO2 data show for Greater Manchester?

As part of the Clean Air Plan monitoring for 2021 diffusion tubes measured NO2 levels at 222 locations across Greater Manchester.

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It has now been concluded that there were 45 places of these where NO2 levels were above the legal limit of an annual average of 40 microgrammes per cubic millilitre.

In addition there were 45 places where there was thought to be a risk of potentially exceeding the legal level.

And Clean Air GM has acknowledged that during 2021 ongoing Covid-19 restrictions there were reduced vehicle traffic levels along with their associated emissions, leading to lower concentrations of air pollution.

The introduction of a Greater Manchester clean air zone was put on hold ealier this year

In the city centre legal NO2 levels were breached at a number of locations including Piccadilly Gardens, Lever Street and Church Street in the Northern Quarter and sites near the Arndale and the John Rylands Library.

There were also a string of breaches recorded along the A57M and other main roads in the city, including the Ring Road and along the A6 in Ardwick.

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Other locations where the levels were breached included St Mary’s Way in Stockport, the A34 in Cheadle, the A635 in Ashton-under-Lyne and sites in Oldham, Rochdale and Farnworth.

What have environmental campaigners said?

The Clean Cities Campaign says the 2021 data for NO2 levels across Greater Manchester give deep cause for concern and shows that the reduction in air pollution at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic was only temporary and did not survive the return to something like normal.

The organisation criticised the recent move by Greater Manchester authorities to press ahead with submitting a non-charging Clean Air Zone to the Government for approval, suggesting it would not be enough.

The head of the campaign, Oliver Lord, said: “This is really worrying. The number of locations exceeding or at risk of exceeding illegal air quality limits in Greater Manchester increased by 50% in 2021.

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“These limits were meant to be met in 2010. Or, to put it another way, thousands of kids leaving primary school this summer have spent their entire lives breathing illegally polluted air.

“With the drop in air pollution at the height of the pandemic, the Mayor was rallying us all to ‘build back better’ but clearly this has been forgotten. Cancelling the Clean Air Zone is an open invitation for dirty vehicles to return to our streets.”

What have the authorities in the city-region said?

Clean Air GM insisted that the Clean Air Zone plan which is currently being looked at by ministers will be enough to bring down air pollution levels, which it stressed is a key priority for Greater Manchester.

The organisation acknowledged that pollution levels had risen as Covid restrictions came to an end but defended the decision to take charging out of the Clean Air Zone scheme.

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A Clean Air GM spokesperson said: “Tackling the health impact of poor air quality remains a priority for Greater Manchester and our new proposals for an investment led, non-charging Clean Air Plan will still achieve this.

“Our original proposal for a charging Clean Air Zone was developed pre-Covid pandemic. Travel restrictions during the pandemic led to a significant reduction in vehicle traffic and associated emissions, and lower concentrations of air pollution.

“While overall traffic levels were still below pre-pandemic levels in the year ending 2021, the period had higher road traffic levels than 2020. This is considered to be a factor behind the annual increase in NO2 levels and is reflected in the latest diffusion tube data.

“However, the previous Clean Air Plan became unworkable due to changes in the global vehicle supply chain linked to the pandemic and the emerging cost-of-living crisis.

“The Case for a new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan sets out the evidence supporting an investment led, non-charging Clean Air Plan as the best solution to address the roadside nitrogen dioxide problem and clean up the city-region’s air, in a way that does not does not put jobs, livelihoods and businesses at risk.”