Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone: taxi drivers plan city centre protest against environmental scheme

Organisers of the demonstration believe the green measures will have a large, negative impact on a range of businesses.

Taxi and private hire vehicles will descend on Manchester city centre tomorrow for a large protest against the city-region’s Clean Air Zone.

Organisers are hoping hundreds of people will take part in the rally against the environmental scheme, which is currently being reviewed by the Government in the wake of a public and business backlash.

The taxi and private hire vehicle sector has staged a number of town centre demonstrations against the Clean Air Zone across Greater Manchester.

Organisers of the Manchester demonstration, which takes place on Thursday 3 February, claim the scheme will have a large and negative impact on a wide range of businesses as well as residents.

A sign for the Clean Air Zone in Wigan. Photo: Andrew Nowell/JPIMedia

What is the Clean Air Zone protest being held?

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The Manchester protest is being co-ordinated by the National Private Hire and Taxi Association (NPHTA), which has local groups across the city-region which are coming together to air their views.

Taxis and private hire vehicles will be setting off from the Etihad Stadium at 10.30am and making their way to Manchester Town Hall, where they expect to arrive between midday and 1pm.

There will also be a route from Salford while drivers from Bolton, Bury and Oldham have not yet announced how they will be getting into the city centre.

The NPHTA says it also expects a number of other industries which will be affected by the Clean Air Zone, such as traders in white vans, to join the protest.

The demonstration in Manchester is expected to end at around 1.30pm.

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Organisers said it has been timed for minimum disruption and ensure work such as getting children with special educational needs to school is not affected.

Why is the protest taking place and what do the organisers want?

The NPHTA says the Clean Air Zone will have a considerable impact on businesses across Greater Manchester.

It says Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham was only instructed by the Government to take action against nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in the city-region and for that reason it wants to see the removal of elements involving charging drivers and vehicle owners.

The organisation said taxis in particular are struggling with a double whammy of the Clean Air Zone and new minimum licensing standards which it says will drive people off the road because of the costs imposed in a sector still in a fragile state from the Covid-19 pandemic.

And it warned that unless major changes are agreed between Greater Manchester’s leaders and ministers this will not be the end of the protests.

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Dissatisfaction with the scheme has been rising in recent weeks, with tens of thousands of people joining the Facebook group Rethink GM to express opposition to the Clean Air Zone.

David Lawrie from the National Private Hire and Taxi Association

David Lawrie from the NPHTA said: “Now the public is on board with Rethink GM we are looking to raise our voices and raise awareness. We’re hoping there will be in the region of 300 to 500 vehicles there.

“Our overall target is that we want the charging zone scrapped.

“The zone hasn’t been paused, they are still going to charge people, all that has happened is that the funding and support has been stopped.

“Taxis and private hire vehicles are also being hit with these new standards, and the only vehicle that is hybrid or electric and acceptable costs £68,000. It is just not suitable.

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A graphic showing the boundary of the GM Clean Air Zone

“Our industry received zero financial support from the Government through Covid-19 and now drivers are having all this expense and change put on them. It’s not the right time. At least give us time to recover before you hit us with all this stuff.

“There are also a lot of Greater Manchester companies with drivers and vehicles licenced with other districts because of the waiting times at local councils and because during Covid you couldn’t do face-to-face medicals or driving tests which you need to get a new licence.

“We’re also raising our voices on behalf of others. It is going to affect the general public.

“If we don’t get answers this will progress on to longer strikes, longer periods of action and louder voices, although we are hoping we don’t have to go that far.”

Mr Lawrie said there were other issues with the Clean Air Zone, suggesting that sole traders or businesses with just one vehicle had been unable to register and severe penalty charge notices will be imposed on those who do not log their routes to work out what charges they have to pay.

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What have the authorities said?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) said its position remained unchanged from the statement Mr Burnham gave as an update following its most recent meeting in Leigh.

Mr Burnham said: “I met with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as only he can enable a review, variation or withdrawal of the Clean Air Scheme.

“We are all committed to improving air quality and the health of our residents but we also recognise that major changes are needed to the current scheme.

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“I asked the Secretary of State to consider all options, in particular to lift the Government’s legal direction on all 10 Greater Manchester councils to provide more time for us to achieve compliance.

“This is because as we have previously articulated we fear the current scheme may not be successful in achieving compliance by 2024, but will cause real hardship to many businesses in Greater Manchester as a result of recent changes to the supply chain and cost inflation.”