WHEN I was first elected as a councillor in 1996, I was introduced to Geoff Kaufman, Tameside’s then director for environmental health.
He told me that he started his working career as an apprentice environmental health officer for the old Denton Urban District Council. With pride he recollected how Denton was among the first councils in the country to adopt the Clean Air Act, declaring the town as a smokeless zone, and consequently, massively helping to clean the town’s air up.
Talk to anyone who was around in the 1950s, or look at old images, and you can see it. Black smoke spewing out of domestic and factory chimneys; thick pea souper smogs.
With that kind of smoke and smog, you can see how unhealthy it was and can only imagine the damage it did to anyone breathing it in.
However, make no mistake, today Tameside’s air is polluted. Two motorways – the M60 and M67 – alongside heavy traffic congestion at places like Mottram Moor, the Ashton bypass and Crown Point means that an exceptional amount of pollution is being pumped into our air.
The difference from the 50s is that the pollution is now an invisible killer.
Air pollution is estimated to cause between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths each year. There is strong evidence that it causes the development of coronary heart disease, strokes, respiratory disease and lung cancer. Building a clean air future needs to be a priority for national and local governments alike.
Technological advances will make transport cleaner, but we need a massive step change with active travel options for local journeys.
The Bee Network with its planned 1,800 miles of cycling and walking routes is a fantastic start, and alongside pedestrian improvements and affordable clean public transport, we can start to properly tackle air pollution and protect ourselves and future generations.
Green solutions also have knock on effects. Tree planting is fantastic for the environment and is also a real community activity that improves mental health and drives up house prices.
Greater Manchester has a proud industrial heritage, but it is also known for its ability to innovate and to be ahead of the curve. We now need to turn our attention to leading the way on cleaning up our most precious asset; the air we breathe.