Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone Q&A leads to heated discussion

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Mayor Andy Burnham faced a challenging audience at a question time session last week.

Andy Burnham faced a furious crowd as he was asked about the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone at a Mayor’s Question Time event.

The Labour mayor answered questions from the public at the session on Thursday (10 February) at UA92 in Trafford.

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Talk of the controversial Clean Air Zone, which was due to come into effect in May but has now been delayed, dominated the event, raising tensions early on.

Members of the public started arguing amongst themselves during the heated discussion.

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

The scheme was set to charge commercial vehicles which are not compliant with air quality standards every time they drive on the city-region’s roads.

But the government agreed to postpone the deadline by which Greater Manchester’s councils must bring air pollution down to legal limits to 2026.

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A ‘substantially different’ scheme is now expected to be revealed by July – and some people have called for the mayor to hold a referendum on the new plans.

One member of the public who was highly critical of the Clean Air Zone at the event on Thursday told Burnham that the whole scheme is ‘anti-democratic’.

He said: “If you don’t hold a referendum, you have no right to be in office.”

Mr Burnham was accused of ‘destroying people’s livelihoods’ and asked how charging businesses would help them to be able to afford cleaner vehicles.

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He was also asked why he proposed a Clean Air Zone covering the whole of Greater Manchester and told he must accept he ‘got it wrong and change it’.

Signs for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone in Wigan. Photo: Andrew Nowell/JPIMediaSigns for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone in Wigan. Photo: Andrew Nowell/JPIMedia
Signs for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone in Wigan. Photo: Andrew Nowell/JPIMedia | JPIMedia

The mayor told the audience that Greater Manchester council leaders agreed that a ‘swiss cheese’ model with different rules for each road would not work.

At one point, Mr Burnham reached for a piece of paper in his pocket, saying it proves that government policy was to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone.

He insisted he does not want anybody to pay any Clean Air Zone charges.

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He added: “You come in here and assert as if you know everything. But with respect, you don’t know everything.

“You don’t know that I said to the 10 leaders of the Greater Manchester councils last year, ‘we are going to have to go back to the government because in my view and from what I am hearing, this plan is not going to be deliverable’.

“I said that last year because I’d already commissioned the research on what was going on.

“And when the campaign blew up early in the new year, in some ways, I said straight away, ‘Well, I understand why there’s a campaign because I have got my own doubts about whether this is deliverable’.

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“So you sit there and suggest that you know everything about it, but you don’t know everything about it.”

One younger person in the audience did defend the mayor, saying Burnham was ‘trying his best’ and blamed the government for the current situation.

Mr Burnham responded, receiving a round of applause from parts of the audience.

He said: “I do take objection to the government imposing this without enough money – as they did with Tier 3 – and then saying, ‘it’s all the mayor, it’s all Greater Manchester’. That is wrong.

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“That is not the kind of politics we should have in this country because it’s basically dishonest.

“We’re entitled to fight back a bit here about what’s being done.”

Speaking at a Combined Authority meeting on Friday (February 11), the mayor said he would make a statement about the next steps with the Clean Air Zone.

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