Manchester clean air zone halted amid growing fears of economics

Greater Manchester’s controversial clean air zone is to be put on hold amid growing fears it could put thousands of businesses and jobs at risk.

The scheme would have seen high-emission vehicles, including older buses, lorries and private hire cabs, charged up to £60 a day to drive within the 500-mile expanse of the city region from 30 May.

But the roll out – scheduled to begin on 30 May – was abruptly halted on Friday following meetings between the region’s mayor Andy Burnham and the government.

The decision comes after growing concern that the sheer scale of the charges – which would not have applied to private vehicles – would put thousands of businesses in danger of going under or in a position where they had to lose staff.

A legal requirement on the region’s 10 councils to have reduced the area’s poisonously high levels of nitrogen dioxide by 2024 will now not come into force until 2026.

In a joint statement, Mr Burnham and Jo Churchill, the government’s under-secretary for the environment, said they would come up with a new plan to achieve the new target “by the middle of the year”.

They suggested the Covid-19 pandemic had made introduction of the zone – the biggest of its kind in Europe – unworkable. And speaking after the announcement, Mr Burnham said the changes to the current plan would be “substantial”.

The joint statement said: “Air quality is one of our biggest health challenges and we are all completely committed to tackling it. We have agreed to a short time-limited pause.

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“We will work together to deliver, by the middle of the year, a plan for clean air for Greater Manchester, one that is fair to the businesses and residents of the city region.

“We will deliver improved air quality as soon as possible, not losing ambition but ensuring we take into account the pandemic, global supply chain challenges, improvements already baked into retrofits and the scope as previously laid out.”

The announcement was immediately welcomed by businesses who had feared being wiped out by the new charges.

Robert Downes, development manager with the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This is an 11th-hour decision but, that notwithstanding, it is a welcome one.

“We all want cleaner air but this scheme, as it stood, wasn’t right, wasn’t going to work and wasn’t practical. It was going to ruin people.

“The government and Greater Manchester now need to go back to the drawing board and come back with proposals – and a time frame – that will give businesses time to better prepare to drive the change.”

But campaigners for the scheme said the delay was killing people: 1,200 people die every year as a result of Greater Manchester’s polluted air.

Geraldine Coggins, one of just six Green Party councilors across the authority area, labeled the delay “frustrating”.

She said: “It took four years to get this plan to where it is and for it to be just stopped like this is a bad day for Greater Manchester. It means we are going to be living with air that has illegal levels of pollutants for two more years. That means more babies being born with asthma, more children suffering, more people suffering dementia.”

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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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