Andy Burnham vows to scrap Clean Air Zone charges ‘the minute environment targets are hit’

Greater Manchester’s Mayor is urging the government to ‘take the politics out’ of the Clean Air Zone – as he vowed to scrap charges once environment targets are hit.

It comes a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, responding to a question from Conservative Leigh MP James Grundy in the House of Commons, hit out at Labor Mayor Andy Burnham and described the proposed charging scheme ‘completely unworkable’.

Having seen the blame pinned on him, Mr Burnham swiftly responded by urging the government to allow three more years for Greater Manchester to meet its clean air target, claiming vehicles would not need to be charged as a result.

READ MORE: How Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone compares with schemes in other major cities

And, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program this morning (February 3), Mr Burnham said he had asked the Environment Secretary to lift the ‘defective’ legal directive saying the region must clean up its air by 2024.

The major added it was ‘something of a surprise’ to hear Mr Johnson’s comments blaming him for the scheme, and urged the Conservative government to work with him on a solution.

Greater Manchester Major Andy Burnham holds a press conference on February 2, 2022
Andy Burnham at a press conference on Wednesday

Mr Burnham said: “I would say to them – please take the politics out of this.

“Governments have a habit – Conservative governments – of imposing policies and then campaigning against them.

“They impose housing targets on local councils, then campaign against taking the greenbelt, they cut council budgets then campaign against council tax.

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“Please don’t go down this route with this one. Let’s solve it together.”

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As it stands, the fiercely-criticised Clean Air Zone is due to launch in May, after a government directive was served on all 10 Greater Manchester councils to clean up their air.

It comes as Greater Manchester has 152 points in the region where air pollution breaches legal limits, with pollution causing over 1,000 deaths per year.

In its current form, the Clean Air Zone would eventually see the most polluting vehicles charged up to £60 a day to drive around the region, with charges introduced in two phases.

Mr Burnham told Today the government directive that the region must be compliant by 2024 ‘dictates the shape’ of the scheme.

He insists it’s in the government’s hands to move that date to 2027, the new proposal announced last night, which Mr Burnham says would mean charging is not necessary as vehicles could be replaced or retrofitted to meet the rules by that point.

The mayor also hinted that the Clean Air Zone could be ‘stood down’ once air quality reached the required level in Greater Manchester – a move similar to the one already seen in Leeds, which canceled its scheme in late 2020.

“We’ve got the pandemic now that is coming into play with a scheme that is no longer workable,” said Mr Burnham.

“We don’t believe it’s possible to achieve air compliance by 2024 because people can’t buy the vehicles – they’re not available, they’re not affordable – so they will just be left paying the charge.

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“And actually, we never wanted a scheme that was a revenue raiser. This is all about achieving air compliance, and we would stand down the scheme the minute that had been achieved.

“But the date of 2024 is no longer achievable because of changes in vehicle supply markets.”

Following a question from Mr Grundy yesterday, in which the Leigh MP described the ‘Greater Manchester Mayoral Clean Air Zone scheme’ as a ‘job-destroying tax on ordinary workers’, Mr Johnson kept the blame for the charge on Mr Burnham.

The Prime Minister said: “I know from my own experience how vital it is when you’re trying to clean up air in a great city that you do not unjustly penalize business and small business and it’s become clear that the scheme proposed by the Labor mayor in Manchester is completely unworkable, would do more damage to businesses and residents in Manchester.

“So we must find an alternative that doesn’t punish local residents.”

He added: “The Secretary of State for the Environment will be saying more about this in the coming days.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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