Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone: business group hopes ‘end of the road’ near for ‘disaster’ green scheme

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The organisation blasted the environmental scheme as ‘poorly thought through’, ‘poorly timed’ and ‘business damaging’.

A leading business organisation has slammed the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone and said it hoped the “end of the road” was near for the environmental scheme.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) dubbed the green scheme as “poorly thought through”, “poorly timed” and “business damaging”.

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It said that only the attempted introduction of a congestion charge in 2008, which was ultimately scrapped, came close to being as problematic for the city-region’s firms.

The hard-hitting comments came after Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he was requesting the Government draw up a major redesign of the scheme, including making this year’s phase non-charging, exempting all private leisure vehicles and pushing back the date by which the city-region has to comply with air quality standards, potentially as far as 2027.

It was also suggested that if the Government gave the city-region the longest timeframe to bring down air pollution it could be possible to do so without setting up a charging zone at all.

A graphic showing the boundary of the GM Clean Air ZoneA graphic showing the boundary of the GM Clean Air Zone
A graphic showing the boundary of the GM Clean Air Zone | Transport for Greater Manchester

What did the Federation of Small Businesses say?

FSB development manager for Greater Manchester, Robert Downes, said: “This marks what I hope will be the end of the road for one of the most poorly thought through, poorly timed, business-damaging schemes ever conceived in Greater Manchester.

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“Only the 2008 proposed congestion charge comes close to the disaster this would have been for our small firms had the Clean Air Zone gone live in May.

“There will be literally hundreds of thousands of business owners in Greater Manchester – and beyond its borders – sleeping easier tonight now that this most punishing of schemes has been kicked in to touch in its present, unworkable format.

“We’re delighted the authorities in Greater Manchester have also seen sense – albeit at the 11th hour.”

What provoked such a strong reaction?

The FSB said someone driving a non-compliant Transit-type van was looking at having to pay around £3,000 a year under the Clean Air Zone scheme, with HGV and bus operators facing higher amounts.

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It also said that problems in the global supply chain and rocketing prices of vehicles meant that for many businesses upgrading to vans which meet emissions standards was currently impossible.

The FSB also said the effects would have been felt across Greater Manchester by the public at a time of rising costs of living.

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

Mr Downes said: “This would have resulted in higher costs for everyone living here, from the pint of beer to a loaf of bread.

“It would have also come on top of the spiralling business costs feeding through the system right now, with inflation running at 5.4%, national minimum wage due to go up by 6.6% in April, National Insurance costs also hiking in April, and let’s not forget the massive surge in energy costs we know are only going to go higher.

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“And all this on the back of the pandemic and record levels of business debt.”

What does the FSB think should happen next?

The FSB said that with the Clean Air Zone potentially heading back to the drawing board the authorities in Greater Manchester now have a number of questions to answer.

Mr Downes said: “This was never the right time to push ahead with this. The question is, how has this been allowed to get so far down the line?

FSB development manager for Greater Manchester Robert DownesFSB development manager for Greater Manchester Robert Downes
FSB development manager for Greater Manchester Robert Downes | FSB

“There are big questions around why this scheme, which was a business killer from the outset and one FSB lobbied hard against, has been allowed to get almost to implementation without adequate scrutiny, with consultation responses seemingly disregarded, and cautionary advice from business organisations like FSB totally ignored?

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“And what about those businesses who’ve already taken the plunge and invested in newer vehicles, having sold non-compliant vehicles at a massive loss? This needs a thorough inquest.”

Taxi drivers are due to protest today in Manchester city centre ahead of a meeting about the green scheme, which is designed to cut levels of air pollution in line with health targets.

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