Federation of Small Businesses urges pause on Clean Air Zone until 2024 'as businesses can’t afford to upgrade vehicles'

Date published: 08 December 2020

The Federation of Small Businesses has called for a pause and wholescale re-evaluation of the controversial Clean Air Zone as part of its official submission to Transport for Greater Manchester.

The business group says the Clean Air Zone should be put on hold to allow businesses time to recover from the shock effect of Covid-19 on the regional economy, and to give TfGM enough time to assess whether the Clean Air Zone is still fit for purpose and able to realistically reduce pollution as the scheme was designed.

In its 14-page submission, The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) paints a bleak picture of businesses struggling to stay afloat, laden with Covid-19 debt, and jobs at risk, with TfGM and the Combined Authority (GMCA) seemingly poised to push ahead with their current Clean Air Zone proposals, despite the seismic economic fallout of the pandemic, coupled with the UK’s departure from the EU next year.

FSB’s consultation response to TfGM also included a letter jointly signed by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the CBI, unifying the region’s three largest business organisations in opposition to the Clean Air Zone in its current format, in its current timetable, in the current climate.  

Commenting on the FSB Clean Air Zone research, which underpins their submission, FSB Development Manager for GM, Robert Downes, said: “Our report shows Covid has been the ultimate game-changer that no one planning for the Clean Air Zone back in 2016 could have foreseen. But that doesn’t mean we should simply plough on regardless of the consequences.

“Many firms have ‘maxed out’ their finance options to simply get through the pandemic and will simply not be able to upgrade to newer vehicles. Most will pay the penalty and pass the cost on to customers, failing to reduce nitrogen oxide levels, and rendering the Clean Air Zone into nothing more than a damaging tax on business.

“Covid-19 has radically changed how and where people work, and how they travel. These changes are likely here to stay, and pollution reduction targets may be met much sooner than previously thought. In Leeds a similar Clean Air Zone scheme has been ditched for that reason.”

He continued: “The reality is that the full economic effects of Covid-19 aren’t yet properly understood, and we will be suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic for years. TfGM need to pause the Clean Air Zone and use the time to come up with something less harmful to jobs and the economy, with something more appropriate for the post-Covid future we will find ourselves – whatever that might look like.” 

FSB also said there was a massive question mark over funding of the current Clean Air Zone scheme, with the government having only pledged £40m of TfGM’s suggested £150m at present.

Downes added: “The government has still only committed a fraction of the cash TfGM says it needs to help businesses transition to cleaner vehicles. Given the unprecedented economic situation we are now in, how likely is it that the extra money will ever land?

“If the government can’t find the cash, the authorities here should be honest and say it’s not possible to implement the Clean Air Zone without causing another massive economic shock for businesses. I don’t think that’s acceptable, nor do most businesses who will be affected, and nor will the people who lose their jobs if this isn’t looked at again.”

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