The document, released by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), outlines what the city-region’s leaders believe is the best way to tackle high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and bring emissions within legal levels as soon as possible.
The Clean Air Zone has been under review for some time following a huge public and business backlash against the initial proposals for a charging scheme right across Greater Manchester.
Local leaders have expressed concern about the effect of levying charges on businesses and say they believe the approach that has been set out is fair, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham urging ministers not to “level down” the city-region with a charging scheme.
The plan also contains ideas for a shake-up of how private hire vehicles operate in Greater Manchester as part of the emissions-reduction drive.
The document will be considered by a scrutiny committee in Greater Manchester before being sent off to the Government.
What is the case that has been set out for the Clean Air Zone?
The approach set out in the document, which in full is called The Case for a new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan: Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan to tackle Nitrogen Dioxide Exceedances at the Roadside, involves:
- Evidence that economic conditions have deteriorated significantly since the previous Clean Air Plan was agreed in summer 2021, with businesses in Greater Manchester now dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, soaring inflation and high vehicle fuel costs.
- Analysis suggesting an investment-led approach with financial support targeted to upgrading vehicles which frequently travel through areas where modelling shows NO2 levels will remain above legal limits without action.
- A commitment to reviewing local policy changes, such as goods vehicle access controls, alongside regulatory measures such as vehicle licensing standards to accelerate fleet upgrades.
- A proposal to work with the Government to agree the targeted use of automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to support the identification of vehicles that could be upgraded as well as for use by the police
Greater Manchester’s leaders say they are in agreement that a non-charging scheme is the way forward, taking into account the cost-of-living crisis and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on Manchester city centre.
A letter sent to Mr Burnham by environment secretary George Eustice at the start of June said the Clean Air Zone should be rolled back significantly from the original GM-wide proposal but discussed the possibility of a much smaller Category C charging zone based around Manchester city centre.
However, the city-region’s leaders appear to be united in pushing forward a Category B non-charging zone.
What will happen now?
The case for the non-charging zone will firstly have to be scrutinised by the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee.
It will then be submitted to the Government to meet a 1 July deadline given to the city-region.
Under the revised agreement for bringing down harmful emissions Greater Manchester has to make plans to get NO2 levels within legal limits as soon as possible and by 2026 at the latest.
The committee will be asked to confirm the submission and notify the secretary of state, subject to any comments from the city-region’s councils which will also consider the report in July.
In addition, the committee will be asked to agree that the next stage of the new plan will be developed through intensive engagement with business and the community.
The environment and the economy
The document stresses that tackling air pollution in Greater Manchester remains a priority, stating that harmful substances have a major health impact including shortening residents’ lives.
However, it also addresses concerns that the rising costs of second-hand vehicles is making it difficult for people to upgrade to compliant ones. To add further difficulties to this, there is anecdotal evidence that the number of cities bringing in Clean Air Zones and other similar environmental measures means non-compliant vans and taxis are worth less when their owners come to trade them in.
And there is concern that some businesses such as the coach sector are in line to be seriously impacted by the Clean Air Plan when they have still not yet recovered from Covid which involved long periods when they could not operate at all due to lockdown restrictions.
The authorities have reiterated that the previous Clean Air Zone scheme became unworkable due to vehicle costs shooting up coupled with the cost-of-living crisis.
Greater Manchester is also putting faith in its own investment in greener public transport, such as the roll-out of zero-emission buses over the next few years, to reduce NO2 levels.
What has been said about the new Clean Air Plan?
Mr Burnham said: “The Case for a New Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan outlines how Greater Manchester would meet air quality legal limits in a way which is fair to local people and businesses and does not create the risk of financial hardship.
“Our city is still recovering from the pandemic and we don’t want the Government to level-down our city-centre with their proposals to charge businesses from across Greater Manchester who have to travel through or work within the proposed charging area.
“Even a small charging Clean Air Zone would result in a considerable financial burden for the many businesses moving products and people through Manchester city centre, providing a significant setback in economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic, and during a cost-of-living crisis.
“The government wants us to charge Greater Manchester businesses at a time when they can least afford it.”
Coun Andrew Western, GMCA portfolio lead for Clean Air, said: “The health impact of dirty air is a primary concern for Greater Manchester, and we remain determined to tackle it in a way which does not create financial hardship for local people.
“We have been listening to the views of business leaders and, given the poor economic outlook for the UK as a whole and Greater Manchester – coupled with increasing evidence of the harm poor air quality causes – this is a delicate balance.
“Based on the evidence, including the impact that a charging Clean Air Zone would have on their ability to make a living, and the risk to jobs and livelihoods, we have had the opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of the Clean Air scheme which we now feel is fit for purpose and fair to the people of our city-region.
“We will now move into a period of more intensive engagement with business and the community to bring together the detailed policy of the new Clean Air Plan.”
What does the plan say about private hire vehicles?
In support of the Clean Air Plan, Greater Manchester will also ask the Government for a commitment to develop an approach to regulation that will legally require all private hire journeys booked in Greater Manchester to be undertaken by a driver and vehicle which are both licensed by one of the 10 local authorities in the city-region.
The GMCA claims out-of-area operation currently allows drivers to evade local licensing standards, which it described as “fair, safe and democratically-determined”.
The authorities say their proposal to curtail out-of-area working in the sector would give councils more power to improve the emission standards of all private hire fleets operating in Greater Manchester.