Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone: green campaigners slam ‘political blame game’ and call for action

Campaigners claim politicians are failing to protect the health of the city-region’s residents, with air pollution linked to conditions like asthma.

Green campaigners in Manchester have hit out at politicians in the ongoing saga over the city-region’s controversial Clean Air Zone.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has asked ministers to redesign the scheme, which has run into a huge public and business backlash, as well as push back the deadline for complying with air quality standards.

However, Manchester Friends of the Earth have now blasted both local and national politicians, accusing them of playing a “blame game” and failing to protect people’s health.

They say the need for a Clean Air Zone and other environmental measures is pressing and are urging the authorities to take action.

What has Manchester Friends of the Earth said?

The organisation said that if the Secretary of State for the Environment George Eustice alters the legal direction on Greater Manchester’s councils giving them until 2027 to reduce air pollution, it is likely to mean a 3% rise in emissions across the city-region.

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This is in distinct contrast to the authorities’ hopes that extending the deadline will mean air quality improves as older vehicles are replaced with greener ones without having to resort to measure such as a charging Clean Air Zone.

Manchester Friends of the Earth also said the Greater Manchester Combined Authority pledged to become a World Health Organisation (WHO) BreatheLife City in 2017 and noted the WHO had recently made its air pollution guidelines tougher.

The organisation said action is needed now to protect residents’ health.

The Clean Air Zone aims to cut air pollution in Greater Manchester - but at what price?

Manchester Friends of the Earth also hit out at local and national politicians alike for failing to come up with solutions earlier to the city-region’s pollution problems.

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It also accused the national Government of failing to support people in upgrading their vehicles and short-changing the scheme while ploughing money into projects such as road-building which are likely to increase the amount of air pollution being generated.

Catherine Thomson, Manchester Friends of the Earth co-ordinator, said: “The Clean Air Zone should be there to protect people – so that fewer kids go to hospital with asthma attacks, so that fewer people die early from heart attacks and strokes and to alleviate the burden on the NHS.

“We are witnessing a frustrating political blame game at the moment. Government analysis found that Clean Air Zones were the most effective way to bring air pollution to within legal levels as soon as possible.

“Local and national leaders have had five years to come up with solutions to the air pollution crisis in Greater Manchester. It shouldn’t have come to this.”

Manchester Friends of the Earth protesting about air pollution levels

The organisation’s sustainable transport campaigner Pete Abel said: “Removing the charging Clean Air Zone will not solve the air pollution health emergency in Greater Manchester.

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“The Government has failed to provide the proper funding for people in Greater Manchester and beyond to replace polluting vehicles with cleaner ones.

“If the Government is serious about it’s levelling up agenda then it must provide all regions with the funding needed to match London in its ambition to meet legal limits by 2025.

“Meanwhile, the Government is funding a £24 billion roads programme and will possibly spend over £6 billion on the proposed M60 North West Quadrant scheme - and new road schemes will literally make the dirty air problem worse.”

What does Manchester Friends of the Earth want to see happen?

The organisation said there is little evidence that ministers in London understand the scale or urgency of the environmental problems Greater Manchester faces.

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It is now calling for a programme of urgent action.

It said Clean Air Zones must come into effect rapidly and include all polluting vehicle types, supported by greater levels of funding to enable people and businesses to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

It also called for a fast phase-out of high-polluting petrol and diesel vehicles, with a Government-funded scrappage scheme partly funded by charging car manufacturers and offers such as memberships of car clubs and rail season tickets.

The organisation also said road traffic needs to be reduced and schemes which generate traffic including airport expansion and road building and widening should all be scrapped.

Finally it called for more investment in clean, affordable and reliable public transport and infrastructure improvements to support alternatives to driving such as cycling and walking.

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What has just happened with the Clean Air Zone?

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham this week asked the secretary of state to draw up a revised plan for the Clean Air Zone.

This involves the roll-out of the first phase from May involving HGVs, buses and taxis not registered in the city-region being non-charging, with people being sent advice on upgrading rather than fines.

It also involves pushing back the deadline for complying with air quality standards to 2025, 2026 or Mr Burnham’s preferred option of 2027, and a complete exemption for all private leisure vehicles including camper vans, motorhomes and horse boxes.

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Mr Burnham said it was not possible to meet air quality standards by 2024.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said in the House of Commons on Wednesday that the current Clean Air Zone plan is “competely unworkable” and said the secretary of state for the environment George Eustice would be giving an update in the coming days.