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Pioneering clean air scheme will Protect Playgrounds from pollution in Manchester

A new pilot scheme which aims to boost air quality in school playgrounds located next to major roads is set to launch in Manchester.

Scientists from Lancaster University have designed a programme which they believe has the potential to transform national policy, by demonstrating how evergreen hedges can be used as a natural shield to reduce the impact of traffic pollution on pupils. 

The “Protecting Playgrounds” project - which will be delivered by Groundwork, with funding from Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester - will produce results which could benefit other schools in Manchester and beyond.

The four schools selected to take part in the initial trial currently only have railings or mesh fencing between their playgrounds and an adjacent main road.  Research has shown that evergreen hedges planted along the fenceline act as a natural filter, absorbing some of the particulate air pollution generated by passing traffic.  The project will test the use of instant hedges with different species, density and leaf shape, in a bid to identify the most effective green barrier for school boundaries.

During the trial - which is set to begin this summer and run into the autumn - pollution levels will be monitored in both playgrounds and classrooms, to observe what reduction in air pollution levels the hedges help to achieve.   

The four selected schools are all located close to main arterial routes within the Greater Manchester Air Quality Management Area (AQMA), which illustrates the most polluted areas of the city.  Monitoring equipment has already been installed at the participating schools, which are: -

·  Abbott Community Primary, Collyhurst (on Rochdale Road).   

·  Manchester Communication Academy Primary (Rochdale Road)

·  St Ambrose RC Primary, Chorlton (Princess Parkway)

·  Medlock Primary, Ardwick (A6).  

Barbara Maher, Professor of Environmental Science at Lancaster University, said: “This project has the potential to deliver some of the most ground-breaking and important evidence delivered to date in recognising the importance and value that green infrastructure can play in terms of reducing airborne pollution. It could quite literally be a lifesaver for the children of Manchester and of this country”. 

The project will be complemented by 'citizen science' activities, including training pupils to help take monitoring samples and input data; devising cleaner routes to school by having pupils wear mobile monitoring devices, in order to measure their exposure to air pollution as they travel to and from school; plus a public awareness-raising campaign about the effects of airborne pollution.

Ruth Vayro, Headteacher of St Ambrose RC Primary, said: “‘The St Ambrose school community is delighted to be involved in this ground breaking research. The pupils have campaigned relentlessly over the last two years about the poor air quality they are faced with on the doorstep to school. Although this measure does not address the wider issue of poor air quality close to main roads in Manchester, it is likely to significantly reduce the immediate risks to health as the children play outside.’

A final report on the project’s findings is planned to be submitted to Manchester City Council in late 2019.

Manchester City Council is celebrating national Clean Air Day (Thursday 20 June) with a range of activities and events aimed at raising awareness of the issue of air quality.

Schools across the city will be taking part, including through the launch of a ‘Junior PCSO’ scheme to help pupils learn about road safety and air quality, at St Mary’s Primary School, Moss Side.  

Council officers will be on hand in Piccadilly Gardens, Town Hall Extension and at Spinningfields to discuss air quality with residents at engagement events throughout the day, while an electric vehicle demonstration is set to be held in Piccadilly Gardens. 

Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for the Environment, Planning and Transport, Councillor Angeliki Stogia, said: “This project puts Manchester at the forefront of pioneering new research into the vital issue of clean air and raises more awareness of the silent killer that is air pollution - which young children are particularly vulnerable to.

"We've listened to parents who are concerned about air quality around schools and we hope that we'll be able to roll out this pilot programme to benefit more children across Manchester in the future.

“As well as making a direct difference to the quality of the air our children breathe at school, we aim to shine a light on what has been invisible and in doing so, encourage motorists not to leave their engines running while they wait to collect their children." 

Transport for Greater Manchester are asking for public responses to Clean Air Plan proposals for the city region, with a survey available at cleanairgm.com until Sunday 30 June.  

Simon Warburton, Transport Strategy Director at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), said: “Pollution from road traffic can have serious health impacts, particularly for children, whose lungs are still developing. We want to promote the contribution of green infrastructure to improve air quality and if this trial is successful we will work with other Greater Manchester local authorities to investigate how it could be rolled out more widely.

“I hope this ground-breaking project will complement the ambitious proposals in Greater Manchester’s draft Clean Air Plan to tackle roadside emissions, which we’re currently asking for people’s views on at cleanairgm.com.”

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