Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has discussed bringing a new tram-style train service to Bolton during a hustings discussing transport issues.

The hustings - a meeting at which candidates in an election address potential voters - hosted by the Urban Mobility Partnership, Asthma + Lung UK, and the Clean Cities Campaign, and chaired by Brompton Bicycle’s Julian Scriven, was attended by current Labour Mayor Andy Burnham, alongside Liberal Democrat candidate and Stockport councillor Jake Austin.

Sitting in for Green candidate Hannah Kathrine Spencer was Trafford councillor Michael Welton.

Candidates were quizzed on a range of subjects, including bus reliability, the scrapped Clean Air Zone, active travel, and accessibility.

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Electric buses to clean up Bolton’s air

Since scrapping the Clean Air Zone, Mr Burnham has repeatedly stated that the Bee Network will clean up the air instead.

The Bolton News asked candidates how the Bee Network alone was expected to clean up Bolton’s air.

Department for Transport data says that 1.27 billion motor vehicle miles were driven on Bolton’s roads in 2022, of which more than a billion were cars and taxis.

According to readings taken by Bolton’s Derby Street air quality monitor in 2023, average annual concentrations of nitrous dioxide were 21 micrograms per cubic metre – more than twice the World Health Organization guidelines of 10 micrograms per cubic metre, but nearly half the UK legal limit of 40.

Readings for PM10 and PM2.5, small particulate matter, were also above WHO guidelines, but below UK legal limits.

Mr Burnham said buses had been ‘the biggest cause’ of air pollution in outer boroughs.

He added: “Because of the way we’ve introduced the Bee Network, Bolton has had the benefit of electric buses we’ve introduced. We’ve electrified one of the Bolton depots and that has led to 50 electric buses going into service in Bolton.

“In many of the outlying boroughs of Greater Manchester, those buses deal with the UK compliance issue, and I’m pretty confident that it has dealt with it in Bolton, because they’ve been deployed on the routes where there were exceedances.”

When pressed on the Clean Air Zone later, the mayor admitted he could look in to introducing HGV restrictions in parts of Manchester City Centre.

The Bolton News: Mayor Andy Burnham said electric buses would help clean up Bolton's airMayor Andy Burnham said electric buses would help clean up Bolton's air (Image: TfGM)

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Tram-like train coming to Bolton

The Greater Manchester Mayor added that the Bee Network would be preparing for an all-electric bus fleet by 2030, which he said was ‘not pie in the sky or wishful thinking’ – and said a tram-like train would be coming soon.

He said: “We are moving really quickly towards that right now, and actually the evidence says we get to compliance via the Bee Network, accepting a few pinch points in the urban core, that’s a massive change for Bolton.

“I will add, one of those eight commuter rail lines we’re bringing into the network comes via Bolton, that’s the Southport line.

“This is where it all becomes a gamechanger – if you can tap in at Bolton station and get on a train that is for all intents and purposes a tram.

Everyone in Bolton keeps asking for a tram and I’d love to have it there tomorrow.

“In effect, when you get a train that’s in Bee Network livery and you arrive in the city, you’ve got a cap in place over your other onward travel. That is the gamechanger for Bolton that is very much in reach.”

The Bolton News: Bringing Metrolink services to Bolton, like this pictured service in Oldham, has been highly demandedBringing Metrolink services to Bolton, like this pictured service in Oldham, has been highly demanded (Image: Newsquest)

Liberal Democrat councillor Jake Austin agreed with the mayor that he would not bring in a charging Clean Air Zone were he to be elected, instead using solutions such as reduced speeds and plants to control pollution.

Green representative Cllr Michael Welton said sources of air pollution including wood-burning stoves and Manchester Airport would also need to be controlled.

He added that Green candidate Hannah Kathrine Spencer, who is originally from Bolton, knew all too well that those in Bolton ‘had to have a car’ when she was growing up as it was ‘the only way to get in and out of Bolton’.

He added: “That just really shows we need to fundamentally improve both active travel and public transport in places like Bolton.”

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