Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone - what are the new proposals?

Is the Mayor of Greater Manchester heading for another stand-off with the Government over his plans for a Clean Air Zone?

All 10 councils in Greater Manchester have today rubber stamped a scheme by the mayor which will scrap plans to charge the drivers of polluting vehicles.

Instead, Andy Burnham's proposing to offer financial incentives for motorists to switch to electric vehicles.

But the Government still says there's a strong case to keep a smaller charging zone for drivers who harm the environment.

Whitehall will now go through the evidence Greater Manchester has presented, to see if it can support the incentives scheme.

Speaking to Granada Reports after the new plan was published, Mr Burnham said: "It's a very detailed piece of work.

"And that shows how this can be done.

"I've been waiting all week actually for the phone call from the Government to say, can you come down and can we can we discuss this?"

The proposed Clean Air Zone area would cover all 10 Greater Manchester boroughs. Credit: GM Clean Air Zone

The controversial Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone, which would have seen drivers of polluting vehicles charged to enter one of the 10 local authorities, was set to be implemented on 30 May.

But, it was halted following huge public backlash, and the deadline to bring air pollution below legal limits was pushed back by two years to 2026.

City-region leaders then released new proposals for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone (CAZ), where it argued the scheme should be non-charging, and instead £120 million of government money will be used to help owners adapt or retrofit their vehicles.

However, responding to the proposals, Environment Secretary George Eustice, has suggested the zone should still charge - but only in Manchester city centre.

How did this all come about?

  • The air in parts of the city region is highly polluted and potentially dangerous - with local leaders claiming it contributes to 1,200 premature deaths every year.

  • In March 2020, the government issued a legal direction requiring the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities to address the vehicle pollution problem.

  • Plans were drawn up for one of the biggest charging zones in Europe, covering an area of around 493 square miles, to come into force on 30 May 2022.

  • As well as charging £120 million of government funding was also released to retrofit affected vehicles.

  • But more than 52,000 people signed a petition against the proposals - with many citing 'fundamental' concerns over the funding provided due to increased costs and supply issues.

  • The pandemic saw the cost of upgrading vehicles soar by 60% - and amid fears for business and a cost of living crisis - a political row ensued.

  • It was officially halted in February after Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, asked the government for more time to make "major changes" because he did not think the area would achieve clean air targets by 2024.

  • Following the concerns, and talks between Burnham and the government, it was agreed to move the deadline set for Greater Manchester to lower air pollution below legal limits by two years, to 2026.

  • In March, new proposals were put forward by GMCA, including scrapping charges, and instead relying on government funding to help retrofit and upgrade existing vehicles.

  • On 1 July the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee will be asked to confirm this draft submission, and notify the Secretary of State accordingly.

Charges, ranging from £7.50 to £60, had been planned for most motorists entering one of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs.

It was supposed to encourage owners to buy new, greener vehicles or retrofit old ones, but the proposals were delayed in February after concerns meeting pollution targets too soon could put many local firms out of business.

Taxi drivers and small business owners said the additional charges created by the CAZ would destroy their businesses, and complained they were not being offered enough assistance to buy new lower-emission vehicles.

In a letter to local leaders at the start of June, Environment Secretary George Eustice maintained charging should still be implemented - but covering Manchester city centre only. 

He said there was "little robust evidence" an incentive-only approach would be enough, and instead suggested the much smaller charging zone could be "a path between two extremes".

But Andy Burnham says the 10 boroughs are clear "clean air compliance should be achieved through an investment-led, non-charging approach".

He added the plan hoped to address concerns around "the cost of living crisis, soaring inflation and high vehicle fuel costs".

He said: "Unlike the previous charging Clean Air Zone scheme defined by government guidance, the investment-led, non-charging GM CAP seeks to attend to the cost-of-living crisis - through avoiding the use of charging - and actively consider the impacts of the pandemic, particularly on Manchester city centre, where Greater Manchester needs to support ongoing recovery due to changes in economic activity and the impact of wider global economic instability on supply chains."

The plan also seeks to ban taxis not licensed in Greater Manchester as they would not meet the 'standards of local councils'.

That's because they affect the air quality but won't have access those incentives to go greener.

Taxi drivers say that's neither fare or effective, as many of the drivers are local, they just have to get their licenses elsewhere.

Dave Lawrie, Director of the National Private Hire & Taxi Association says that's often down to long waits for councils to process licenses.

It would form part of the minimum licensing standards set to be rolled out across the region, which also includes frequent criminal record checks of drivers, testing English language proficiency and creating a common colour for all vehicles.