Greater Manchester has delayed plans for a Clean Air Zone in the region for a further year as local leaders also call for a multi-million-pound funding package to support the scheme.
While a statutory consultation on the planned Clean Air Plan package of measures was due this summer, it was cancelled a month ago due to the pandemic; the combined authority has said that the current circumstances have limited its ability to progress the delivery of the Clean Air Plan to previous timescales, as already seen in other councils.
Now, the mayor and local authority leaders have said the delay to the consultation means the introduction of the Clean Air Zone that’s part of the package has been moved back to 2022.
The zone was due to kick in from next year and would cover all 10 local council areas and levy charges on non-compliant HGVs, buses, taxis, private hire vehicles, vans and minibuses, but not private cars.
To support the plans, and enable businesses to prepare for the CAZ, the Mayor is calling on ministers for support for the city-region’s plans to rebuild the economy in an environmentally sustainable way. The financial package would enable Greater Manchester businesses and transport operators to make the shift to cleaner vans, lorries, buses taxis and private hire vehicles.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen air pollution levels drop by 30% and road traffic volumes fall by as much as 52% across Greater Manchester as a result of the lockdown – and at the same time cycling journeys have increased by 42%. Now, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has said that the region needs to ensure that the eco benefits seen as a result of the shifts in travel patterns are retained
“We can’t go back to how we were – no one wants to see the levels of air pollution and congestion we were experiencing. We must seize the opportunities offered by this difficult situation to support our businesses through recovery and into a greener future,” said Burnham.
Local authority leaders are now calling for a government support package, including £98m – up from £59m – for a Clean Commercial Vehicle Fund for vans, HGVs, coaches and minibuses.
They’re also calling for £16m for a Clean Bus Fund to support retrofit of the existing bus fleet, as well as a £28m Clean Taxi Fund for taxi and private hire drivers and operators to switch to cleaner vehicles, and a new £10m hardship fund – dedicated to small businesses and sole traders who could face additional financial concerns to help them switch to compliant vehicles.
The city-region is also calling for funding outside of the Government’s Clean Air Plan core funding for 350 new electric vehicle charging points, doubling the size of the existing Greater Manchester publicly owned charging network, and for up to 600 electric buses by the mid-2020s.
Councillor Andrew Western, Greater Manchester Green City-region Lead, said: “Transport and goods deliveries are at the backbone of our economy, so that’s why we’re making this ask of government to help us support local businesses and transport operators as they make the move to a greener, more sustainable future.
“Government has provided some initial funding but we need certainty on the full funding package as soon as possible so we can give Greater Manchester businesses, many of whom we know are struggling due to the coronavirus lockdown, the information they need to play a full role in a Clean Air Plan public consultation and further development of the proposals.”
The delay on the city-region’s Clean Air Zone comes after the Government had already confirmed that Clean Air Zones due this year – including in Birmingham and Leeds – would be postponed until at least January 2021, enabling businesses to focus on work and response efforts during the Covid-19 outbreak.
It’s a move that’s already been slammed by environmental lawyers at ClientEarth; Katie Nield, lawyer, UK clean air at the organisation, commented last month on why it’s essential that Clean Air Zones should go ahead as soon as possible.
Commenting on the latest announcement, Nield said: “We are extremely concerned and quite frankly alarmed at Greater Manchester’s lax approach to protecting people’s health from the harmful impacts of air pollution. Local leaders have provided no explanation as to why the current circumstances have triggered a delay of at least another year and a half before any meaningful action to tackle air pollution commences.
“Greater Manchester has already missed too many government-imposed deadlines. It’s not right that people are having to wait so long for action to protect their health from toxic air.
“The law makes it clear: plans to tackle illegal pollution in the shortest possible time must be put in place as soon as can be. This seems especially important now that our cities and towns are recovering from a virus that affects people’s respiratory health.”