Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone paused: green scheme roll-out to be delayed after backlash

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The city-region is being given a new deadline of 2026 to comply with air quality standards, with a plan expected to be put together by the middle of the year.

Greater Manchester’s controversial Clean Air Zone is being paused and a new deadline of 2026 set for the city-region to comply with air quality standards.

Authorities are also expecting to get a plan to improve air quality across the city-region together by the middle of this year.

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The announcement was made on Friday (4 February) following talks between local and national leaders.

A joint statement from Jo Churchill, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Coun Andrew Western, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) portfolio lead for clean air, read: “We met last week and have had further robust and constructive discussions today to find a solution.

“Air quality is one of our biggest health challenges and we are all completely committed to tackling it.

“We have agreed to a short time-limited pause. We will work together to deliver, by the middle of the year, a plan for clean air for Greater Manchester, one that is fair to the businesses and residents of the city-region.

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“We will deliver improved air quality as soon as possible, not losing ambition but ensuring we take into account the pandemic, global supply chain challenges, improvements already baked into retrofits and the scope as previously laid out.

“We will now work jointly to meet the Greater Manchester and Government requirements on clean air, as soon as possible, and no later than 2026.”

Politicians were put under significant pressure to alter the original Clean Air Zone scheme, in response to a legal direction to lower air pollution by 2024, following a major public and business backlash.

There were particular concerns that not enough money had been allocated for people to upgrade to vehicles meeting emissions standards and there were problems with the cost and availability of compliant vehicles.

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In a press conference on Friday, Mr Burnham said: “Air pollution affects people’s health, but so does forcing people to the brink of bankruptcy. That’s the balance that we’re having to strike. We’re still trying to get it right. We want to clean up the air as quickly as we can, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t threaten people’s jobs or businesses.”

What has the Government said?

Defra also gave an update on the Clean Air Zone on Friday afternoon as the statement was released.

The department said the environment minister’s priority was meeting the Government’s legal obligation to bring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions within legal limits as soon as possible.

It said Greater Manchester will be expected to continue moving at pace to reduce air pollution and improve public health, but acknowledged that the scale of the proposed Clean Air Zone, nearly three times the size of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, meant it was important to get the scheme right.

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Defra acknowledged that air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010, with emissions of fine particulate matter falling by 11% while emissions of nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began.

However, it said there was more to do, with the Government allocating nearly £170m across Greater Manchester to help reduce NO2 levels.

The department concluded that ministers and officials will continue to engage constructively with Greater Manchester on its revised plans and updated evidence to make the city cleaner, greener and fairer.

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