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Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone plans to be sent back to Government to review

The move by local leaders follows a public backlash against the environmental scheme.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has confirmed the city-region’s Clean Air Zone plans are to be referred back to the Government for a further review.

The move comes after a crunch meeting on Thursday morning to discuss elements of the zone, which was due to be rolled out from May for eligible vehicles.

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Local leaders held the discussions following a backlash by thousands of people who signed an online petition, expressing concerns about the costs of charges and problems in obtaining compliant vehicles ahead of the deadline, particularly for small businesses.

Greater Manchester will now ask the government to pause the next phase of the financial support scheme which was due to open at the end of this month which covers funding to upgrade taxis, vans, coaches and minibuses to cleaner models.

Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone signs on Warrington Road, Marus Bridge, Wigan

Announcing the outcome of the meeting, Mr Burnham tweeted: “I am pleased that Greater Manchester councils have just voted to refer the Clean Air Zone back to the Government.

“GM has tried in good faith to make the Government’s legal direction work. However, changes in the vehicle market mean it is impossible to proceed on the current basis without causing real hardship to some of our residents.

“We remain committed to tackling illegal levels of air pollution in GM as soon as possible. This decision opens up the space for urgent, joint discussions with the Government about potential changes to make the scheme fair for everyone.

“I am listening to people’s concerns and will always stand up for GM. I am not the final decision-maker but will do everything I can, working with Government, to get this to the right place. I know it’s difficult but bear with us and I will keep you posted on progress.”

What was said in Thursday’s meeting?

Councillors say the air zone scheme itself will not be scrapped.

Speaking to councillors at Manchester Town Hall on Thursday, Transport for Greater Manchester boss Simon Warburton explained why the Clean Air Funds scheme must be paused to allow for a ‘fundamental review’.

He said: “We face a dual challenge of the volume of vehicles that are in the market and also the prices at which they are in the market.

“Our advice now is that we are no longer confident that the funding arrangement as it stands will provide for the quantum and the sequencing of funding that is needed.”

Mr Warburton said that light goods vehicles will be the most affected by the Clean Air Zone because Greater Manchester has a ‘particularly old’ fleet of vans.

But during the pandemic, the number of light goods vehicles entering the market fell, with a 20 % reduction in new vans compared to the year before.

And although the number of new light goods vehicles registered in 2021 has rise back to 2019 levels, there are now fewer vans in the second hand market.

For this reason, the cost of upgrading light goods vehicles has risen and the financial support scheme agreed last summer will no longer be sufficient.

‘There is real concern’

Trafford council leader Andrew Western, who is the Clean Air lead in Greater Manchester, has already written to the government to give them a ‘heads up’.

He said: “We are still legally directed to achieve compliance in the shortest time possible and not later than 2024 and we have a moral obligation to do so too.

“But there is undoubtedly a real concern coming through from the evidence that we’ve seen and also anecdotally from smaller businesses in the conurbation that they do want to upgrade, but they’re struggling to, in some cases, replace.

“With those changes to second-hand prices and the potential ramifications of that being several thousand pounds potentially increasing the costs of second hand complaint vehicles, there’s much for us to do and obviously not all of that is within our jurisdiction as Greater Manchester.

“These are national and global supply chain issues and they require a national solution.”

Transport is responsible for about a third of Sheffield's carbon emissions.

Funding to upgrade heavy goods vehicles opened at the end of November last year, ahead of the introduction of the Clean Air Zone on 30 May of this year.

But the next phase of the Clean Air Funds scheme for private hire vehicles, hackney carriages, coaches and minibuses and light goods vehicles – some of which will be exempt from the charges until 2023 – was due to open in January.

What next?

If the government agrees to Greater Manchester’s request to pause the funding, owners of these types of vehicles will not be able to funding yet.

However, vehicle owners who have already placed orders for new vehicles could still be offered support and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

TfGM will also review the impact on other vehicles, including lorries and taxis.

Councillors agreed to the recommendations at a Greater Manchester air Quality Administration Committee meeting on Thursday.

But Bolton councillor Nadim Muslim voted against the proposal and suggested instead that whole Clean Air Zone scheme should be paused and reviewed.