A NEW £1.5m walking and cycling zone is part of efforts to tackle the current ‘biggest public health issue’ in the region.

The route, which runs parallel to the B6226, was announced by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) this week as part of a raft of policies aimed at improving public transport and reducing air pollution caused by cars roads.

In documents released as part of the transport body's Clean Air Plan, several of Bolton's roads - including St Peter's Way, Chorley Old Road and Crompton Way - were identified among 152 stretches of highway which will have levels of pollution above the safe bounds by 2020.

Greater Manchester lead for the Green City Region, and Stockport Council leader, Cllr Alex Ganotis, called poor air quality the "biggest issue affecting public health" in terms of environmental risks across the whole of the UK.

He claimed it causes as many as 1,200 premature deaths in the region each year, hitting the most vulnerable members of society the hardest.

He said: “The issue of poor air quality is not new, it’s been a big issue in public policy for many years, and for many years here in Greater Manchester we’ve been working hard to clean up our air.

"We have many policies and strategies that have been very robust and ambitious and you can see the affects of that in recent years for example in improvements to public transport and the management of our road network.

“But, let me be very clear, what we have done to date is not enough and we need to go much further.

“Poor air quality is a public health issue, one of the biggest public health issues facing this country and in terms of environmental risks it is the biggest issue affecting public health.”

Adding: "It affects some of our poorest communities the most and some of our most vulnerable residents, so this is also an issue about fairness, equality and inclusion.

"If we do not deal with this we are letting down our poorest residents and the most vulnerable more than anyone else. We know the damage caused by air pollution can begin as early as a baby’s first few weeks in the womb, with the impacts experienced at every stage in life.”

Construction on Bolton's new walking network is expected to begin within the next five years, with the work scheduled to be completed as part of TfGM's 2040 Delivery Plan.

It will be funded through Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham's Walking and Cycling Fund - part of the wider Transforming Cities Fund, awarded by the government.

In May 2018 it was announced that between 2018 and 2022, £160m would be available from the to encourage more people to cycle and walk, in an attempt to improve public health and reduce congestion.