Greater Manchester mayoral candidates set out their views on transport

On 10th April, a transport-focused hustings was held ahead of the 2024 Greater Manchester Mayoral Election. Andy Burnham (Labour), Jake Austin (Liberal Democrat) and Michael Welton (standing in for the Green candidate Hannah Spencer) were in attendance.

Laura Evans (Conservative) and Dan Barker (Reform) were invited but unable to attend.

The event was hosted by Urban Mobility Partnership, Asthma + Lung UK and the Clean Cities Campaign, whose northern campaigner, Sarah Rowe, has written this review for us.

l to r: Andy Burnham, Michael Welton, Jake Austin and chair Julian Scriven of Brompton

We know that Greater Manchester has some of the most polluted air in the country, and transport is a huge contributor to that, as well as creating around a third of our carbon emissions. So it’s crucial that mayoral candidates have a plan for reducing the impact that transport has on our health and environment – as Jake Austin put it, transport is ‘one of the biggest, most transformative potential powers that the mayor has’.

So it was great to hear from three of the parties about their vision for the next term, and then to have a chance to dig into those plans with questions from the audience.

Generally there was plenty of support for the vision of a fully integrated public transport system with the Bee Network, but differences remain over certain policies, and the level of ambition or speed that is needed to get us there.

In his opening statement, Jake Austin emphasised that it’s all about the details of delivery, highlighting the hyperlocal bus services that have disappeared and also raising the possibility of a circular Metrolink line to better different neighbourhoods to each other, not just into Manchester city centre.

Andy Burnham laid out his vision for Greater Manchester to have the first fully zero emission public transport system at street level in the UK, and made a new commitment to deliver 100 school streets across GM in the next term.

There are currently two dozen or so school streets in the city region, and almost all of them rely on volunteers in order to close the road. So a commitment to implementing a different model of enforcement is hugely necessary if we are going to see school streets rolled out at scale. The evidence is that school streets reduce pollution exposure and road danger for young children so it was encouraging to hear support for school streets from all the candidates.

Michael Welton, standing in for the Green Party candidate Hannah Spencer, made a plea for a GM kerbside strategy (inspired by Lambeth Council) and later talked about the need to really think about what different roads are for – and if that’s eating or socialising, then it would make sense to look at ways to route traffic elsewhere.

One audience member with a lung condition which is aggravated by pollution asked whether any of the candidates would be willing to reconsider a Clean Air Zone in GM, if the evidence showed it would be effective. Michael Welton said that a city centre CAZ should at least be considered if there are funds available to help people to upgrade vehicles. Both Andy Burnham and Jake Austin emphasised that they don’t believe a charging CAZ is the right course of action for fairness reasons. But as Friends of the Earth have pointed out, the lowest income households tend to have the lowest rates of car ownership and yet the worst air quality. A quarter of GM households don’t own a car. Tackling air pollution is itself a fairness issue.

Overall it was a positive debate with lots of constructive ideas discussed. But the reality is that toxic air is currently Greater Manchester’s dirty secret. That’s why local campaigners are calling on the next Mayor to make a positive case for clean air by recommitting Greater Manchester to the World Health Organization guidelines for the most harmful pollutants. To get there we’re going to need to be a lot more ambitious. But a good start would be to rapidly increase the number of school streets, increase bus priority routes across the network and implement some easy wins on cycling; like expanding the Starling bike hire scheme and installing on-street cycle storage.

The role of communities and campaigners in pushing candidates at both local and regional level was emphasised. So if you haven’t already contacted your candidates about air quality, now’s a good time to do it!

You can watch the event back here.




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