Clean Air Zone could be signed off by the summer

Greater Manchester's long-delayed Clean Air Zone could be signed off by leaders by the summer after months of public consultation.

Vans, buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles and lorries that do not meet emission standards would have to pay a daily charge to drive in the city-region under the plans.

Local authorities across the UK have been mandated by the government to introduce charging Clean Air Zones to combat illegal levels of air pollution in the shortest possible time.

Air pollution largely caused by vehicle emissions has been linked with 1,200 deaths a year in Greater Manchester, and it is hoped that legal compliance in the region will be met by 2024.

If approved, the Clean Air Zone would be the largest of its kind in England when it comes into effect in spring 2022.

Non-compliant buses and heavy goods vehicles would pay £60 a day to drive within the zone, with vans paying £10 and taxi and private hire vehicles paying £7.50.

Greater Manchester wants the government to provide £150m to help businesses and individuals switch to cleaner vehicles, but the government has committed £41m so far.

More than 4,700 people, businesses and organisations had their say on the proposals, with some businesses fearing the Clean Air Zone will punish those still reeling from the impact of Covid-19.

There are also concerns that the funding package being sought by Greater Manchester leaders will not go far enough.

The combined authority says the final plan will include updated analysis of the potential impacts of the pandemic on those who will be affected by the Clean Air Zone.

While there were small improvements on air pollution during the first lockdown, road traffic rose quickly in the second half of 2020 to around 85 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

A report by the combined authority suggests that the short-term influence on air quality ‘is not expected to lead to sufficiently long-term reductions in pollution’ without a Clean Air Zone.

Councillor Andrew Western, leader of Trafford council and Greater Manchester’s ‘Green City-Region’ lead, said: “We absolutely recognise the importance of understanding what impact the pandemic has had on our air quality and businesses, so that these are reflected in the final plans and our ongoing discussions with government.

“In particular, we want to ensure that the best possible funding support is in place to help vehicle owners to make the change. 

“It’s a very uncertain time for a lot of people, and getting the right level of funding to support local businesses and organisations before the Clean Air Zone is introduced is absolutely critical.”

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth, who have successfully sued the government three times over illegal air pollution limits, have welcomed news that the Clean Air Zone could be signed off within months.

Last year the group accused Greater Manchester of having a ‘lax approach’ to air pollution after delaying the Clean Air Zone and missing government deadlines to submit their final plans.

Katie Nield, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Time and again, analysis has shown that Clean Air Zones are the most effective way to quickly slash illegal pollution levels. 

“A Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone, which addresses all the most polluting vehicles, is therefore essential to protect people’s health, even more so through this pandemic. 

“The quicker local leaders finalise and start implementing the Clean Air Zone, the sooner they can start helping to ensure that  people and businesses in Greater Manchester have the support they need to move on to cleaner forms of transport.”

Greater Manchester leaders will consider an update on the Clean Air Zone plan at a meeting on January 29.

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