Greater Manchester has submitted a new investment-led, non-charging Clean Air Plan to ministers, despite the government’s suggestion of a small charging zone in Manchester city centre. 

Greater Manchester’s plans for a Clean Air Zone spanning the entire city region, which would have introduced a daily penalty for vans and HGVs unable to meet minimum air quality standards, was paused at the start of the year after being deemed ‘unworkable’.

In particular, there were concerns over the availability and affordability of compliant vans for businesses, which are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19.

Revised plan

Greater Manchester leaders have now submitted a revised plan to government, arguing that a ‘non-charging’ solution focusing on targeted investments will be able to achieve the city region’s target of meeting statutory air quality requirements by no later than 2026.

The suggested measures include:

  • Financial support to upgrade vehicles which frequently travel through locations where air pollution is highest, in particular through the delivery of zero emission buses as part of the city region’s Bee Network
  • A commitment to review local policy changes, such as goods vehicle access controls and vehicle licensing standards to accelerate fleet upgrades
  • A proposal to work with government to agree the targeted use of ANPR cameras to identify vehicles that could be upgraded
  • The £120 million in government funding already secured for the original Clean Air Plan will remain to support the new Plan.

Future of charging zone unclear

However, the government’s current position is that the city region should still be considering a charging zone, albeit significantly reduced in scope to cover just Manchester city centre.

In a letter sent to Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham in June, environment secretary George Eustice wrote: “Recognising that central Manchester has the highest rate of hospital admissions for asthma in the UK… early thoughts by my department are that you should be challenging yourselves to a reduction of the [charging] zone by some 95 per cent of more. Similar or more ambitious schemes have been introduced or are soon to be introduced in several other city centres which suffer less serious quality problems than Manchester’s.”

‘Delicate balance’

Commenting on the revised plan, Cllr Andrew Western, Greater Manchester’s portfolio lead for clean air, said: “The health impact of dirty air is a primary concern for Greater Manchester, and we remain determined to tackle it in a way which does not create financial hardship for local people.

“We have been listening to the views of business leaders and, given the poor economic outlook for the UK as a whole and Greater Manchester – coupled with increasing evidence of the harm poor air quality causes – this is a delicate balance.

“Based on the evidence, including the impact that a charging Clean Air Zone would have on their ability to make a living, and the risk to jobs and livelihoods, we have had the opportunity to fundamentally change the nature of the Clean Air scheme which we now feel is fit for purpose and fair to the people of our city region.

“We will now move into a period of more intensive engagement with business and the community to bring together the detailed policy of the new Clean Air Plan.”

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