Clean Air Zone plans to progress despite delays and uncertainty over government funding

Date published: 16 January 2020

Plans to charge the most polluting vehicles using Greater Manchester’s roads could still go ahead amid delays and an ‘impasse’ over funding.

The combined authority wants to introduce a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) across the whole of Greater Manchester as part of its Clean Air Plan, which is aimed at tackling air pollution.

Buses, coaches, lorries, vans and taxis would be charged up to £100 daily when driving in the Clean Air Zone, with taxis, private hire vehicles and light goods vehicles paying £7.50 a day.

Regional leaders had hoped to receive £116m from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to help drivers and public transport companies make the switch from the summer of 2021.

Instead, Defra has only committed £36m to creating a network of cameras that would help catch those breaching the rules of the CAZ.

The deadline for submitting the final Clean Air Plan proposals has also passed, with the Greater Manchester combined authority blaming delayed feedback from ministers.

Councillor Andrew Western, Greater Manchester Green City region lead, said last month: “We need major funding from the government now to address what is a very serious air quality problem on many local roads across our region.

“We’re committed to improving the air we all breathe as quickly as possible and we have ambitious proposals that we want to move forward with. It’s harming our health and bad for our economy.

“But we need to ensure that those local businesses most affected by our Clean Air Zone proposals have the financial support they need to move to cleaner vehicles.”

Defra had asked the regional authorities to submit their final proposals for the Clean Air Plan by 31 December 2019.

But council leaders say they are still waiting for Defra to give a firmer commitment to funding the rest of the Clean Air Plan, and to provide further clarity on the plan’s legalities.

A ministerial response had also taken three months longer than expected, meaning that a public consultation has also been pushed back.

Despite ongoing uncertainty, the combined authority says it will proceed with implementing the Clean Air Zone using the money Defra has committed to providing.

Councillor Western continued: “We’re playing our part. We’ve submitted extensive further evidence to the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit on our funding ask to support local businesses.

“But, nine months after we submitted our outline business case, we still have no commitment to clean vehicle funds and, crucially, still need final clarification on the legal criteria against which Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan would be assessed.”

He added: “This impasse cannot continue any longer. 

“While Whitehall keeps us waiting, people across our region will continue to breathe in the dirty air which we know is linked to a staggering number of health conditions – including heart disease, strokes and cancer – and even early deaths.”

A government spokesperson said further decisions on funding will be taken following consideration of their final plan.

“We are helping local authorities tackle air pollution in towns and cities across the country,” they said.

“We have already provided Greater Manchester with an initial £36 million to support their new clean air zone.  We continue to work with them to further progress these plans to a final stage and will consider next steps in due course.”

“Last year, we announced our intention to consult on various proposals aimed at changing driver behaviour. We will update on this in due course.”

The Clean Air Zone would:

  • Apply to local roads (not motorways and some main trunk roads managed by Highways England).
  • Operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Mean a daily penalty for non-compliant vehicles driving into, inside and through Greater Manchester.

Any income from the Clean Air Zone would be used to cover its running costs. After that, the plan is for any leftover money to be spent on improving transport in Greater Manchester. This might include improvements to public transport and cycling and walking schemes.

Niall Griffiths, Local Democracy Reporter

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