An update on new plans for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Greater Manchester have been revealed today, which includes a non-charging proposal. All 10 of Greater Manchester’s local authorities are legally directed by government to bring nitrogen dioxide within legal limits as soon as possible and by 2026 at the latest.
Clean air zones, which are already in operation in many cities across the UK, including Birmingham, Bristol and London, aim to improve air quality by cutting the number of high polluting vehicles on the road. However, the rollout of the Greater Manchester CAZ has been on hold since February 2022 after a backlash over the potential of charging drivers of certain vehicles.
The combined authority have been preparing to submit evidence to government in December in support of their preferred investment-led, non-charging plan, benchmarked against a charging Clean Air Zone in the centre of Manchester and Salford. Greater Manchester’s proposal includes a £51.2m investment in zero-emission electric buses for the Bee Network, £30.5m to fund grants for cleaner taxis, and £5m for measures to manage traffic flow on some roads in the centre of Manchester and Salford.
Under this preferred plan, it would mean that no vehicle would be charged to drive in a Clean Air Zone in Greater Manchester. Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said “modelling shows that only Greater Manchester’s investment-led plan can meet the legal test placed on the 10 councils to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time and by 2026 at the latest.”
At the request of government, benchmark modelling for a charging Clean Air Zone tested the potential impact on air quality of introducing charges for some non-compliant vehicles – buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs and light goods vehicles (LGVs) – in the centre of Manchester and Salford. According to the mayor and the 10 councils, modelling showed that simply charging high-emissions vehicles to drive in the zone in the centre of Manchester and Salford would not see the 2026 target met.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Cleaning up the air that people breathe is a priority for Greater Manchester and we have already started to do that through investment in the Bee Network, which saw the first buses brought back under local control in September. By accelerating investment in the Bee Network to create a London-style integrated public transport network, and upgrading GM-licensed taxis, we can improve air quality faster than if we introduced a Clean Air Zone, and without causing hardship to our residents or businesses.”
Leader of Bury Council and Clean Air lead for Greater Manchester, Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, said: “We know that there are very serious consequences of dirty air in Greater Manchester and that the health impacts are not always felt equally.
“We want to do the right thing in the right way, using an investment-led, non-charging plan to clean the air in a supportive and transitional way, that does not create the risk of financial hardship. While we can now prove our case for an investment-led plan, modelling shows that we can’t achieve compliance through a charging Clean Air Zone by 2026. There is now a compelling case for what Greater Manchester has set out – a plan that is fairer, cheaper, more affordable and more democratic.”
Details of the Clean Air Zone plans will be published this week in a report to the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee. The committee will be asked to approve the submission of Greater Manchester’s evidence to government when it meets on December 20.