Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone delayed

Controversial plans to charge motorists to enter Greater Manchester's proposed Clean Air Zone are being delayed following top level talks.

The scheme was due to come into operation at the end of May across the city region in an attempt to reduce harmful air pollution.

But, following concern that meeting pollution targets too soon could put many local firms out of business, it has now been delayed.

Taxi drivers and small business owners say the additional charges created by the CAZ could kill their business, and have complained that they are not being offered enough assistance to buy new lower-emission vehicles.

  • The proposed CAZ was supposed to see the worst polluting vehicles charged to travel within the almost 500 square mile area.

In a joint statement from Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and Cllr Andrew Western, GMCA portfolio lead for clean air they said they will work to deliver a plan by the middle of the year.

They added: "Air quality is one of our biggest health challenges and we are all completely committed to tackling it.

"We have agreed to a short time-limited pause. We will work together to deliver, by the middle of the year, a plan for clean air for Greater Manchester, one that is fair to the businesses and residents of the city-region.

"We will deliver improved air quality as soon as possible, not losing ambition but ensuring we take into account the pandemic, global supply chain challenges, improvements already baked into retrofits and the scope as previously laid out."

The clean air zone would be the biggest in the country, taking in all 10 boroughs.

Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) has been a topic of debate since the year began as residents claimed they have been unable to access the vehicles needed to adhere to the rules.

The new CAZ would have seen buses and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) being charged £60 to drive into the charging area.

Other vehicles including most taxis, vans and minibuses would pay from £7.50 a day following a one year period of grace.

The government has provided £120m to help eligible drivers in Greater Manchester, including small businesses, the voluntary sector and HGV owners, switch to compliant vehicles.

Funding to upgrade heavy goods vehicles began at the end of November.

Taxi drivers have been among many who protested the Clean Air Zone plans.

In January representatives from Greater Manchester’s 10 councils issued a letter to the Environment Secretary George Eustice, requesting he pause the second phase of Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone.

Mayor Andy Burnham then told Mr Eustice he wanted the CAZ to continue - but asked the government to remove the 'punitive' charges.

Stating that he is "responding to the concerns people have raised", he says it should continue to go ahead "but as a non-charging GM-wide Category B CAZ (including buses, HGVs and non-GM registered taxis)."

On Friday, 4 February, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says it had carefully considered proposals put forward by Burnham and had agreed to "allow a short delay".

It says the move will: "Allow Greater Manchester to provide further evidence and a revised plan by July setting out how it will deliver legal levels of NO2 as soon as possible, and no later than 2026."

It added: "Since Greater Manchester’s proposals were submitted in 2019 there have been a number of challenges, including the impact of Covid-19 on supply chains and the price and availability of second-hand vehicles.

"According to evidence provided by Greater Manchester, these impacts will make it harder for people to upgrade to cleaner vehicles, meaning the Clean Air Zone is unlikely to deliver compliance with legal limits by the original date of 2024."

Burnham had blamed Prime Minister Boris Johnson for requiring the scheme and placing "a legal direction on each of our ten councils" to implement it.

He added was the "government’s legal direction" that made the scheme "unworkable".

However Defra has always maintained: "Decisions around the introduction of Clean Air Zones are the responsibility of local authorities, in consultation with residents and local businesses"

The Government and the Metro Mayor Andy Burnham have agreed to meet again in July.