Why Manchester’s Clean Air Zone will stall the city’s growth

Manchester must scale back its plans for a Clean Air Zone to mitigate the very worst economic damage, argues Malcolm Bingham, head of policy for North of England at Freight Transport Association.

While air quality in our cities is consistently improving – nitrogen dioxide emissions fell nationally by almost 70% between 1970 and 2015 in the UK* – there is still work to be done. Greater Manchester is one of the cities mandated by the government to introduce a Clean Air Zone; Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, recently announced his ambitious plans to push forward with proposals for how such a Zone will work for the city.

From 2021, operators of any bus, HGV, taxi, minibus, or private hire vehicle entering the city’s CAZ which does not meet the highest environmental standards would be required to pay a daily charge. Non-compliant vans will not be liable for the CAZ charge until 2023, in recognition of the limited availability of compliant vans currently on the market. The Zone would be the largest CAZ in the UK outside of London.

According to FTA, the business organisation representing the logistics sector, the Mayor’s proposed CAZ would significantly increase running costs for local businesses, while failing to provide the most effective long-term solution to improving air quality. While the logistics sector is fully committed to reducing vehicle emissions wherever possible, and acknowledges the role the industry must play in improving the air quality of our cities, it is essential that any air quality scheme for Greater Manchester is developed with the needs of local businesses in mind. A CAZ would cause operating costs for small businesses to soar, unfairly penalising the hard-working companies and individuals that keep Greater Manchester’s economy thriving, while ignoring other contributors to emissions levels across the city.

CAZs are not the only method available to drive air quality improvements: Nottingham City Council successfully presented its case to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that other solutions can deliver a better outcome in a quicker time frame, without damaging the local economy. The truth is that CAZs bring no long-term air quality benefit, as all the vehicles operating in Manchester will reach this standard in a few years without it. Councils would be better placed to concentrate on traffic management and encourage the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles.

In the opinion of FTA, Andy Burnham and the Combined Authority should follow the approaches of cities such as Nottingham and Leeds or risk the livelihoods of many small businesses. If Manchester’s Authorities feel that they must implement a CAZ, it should scale its size back to mitigate the very worst economic damage by, for example, excluding key industrial areas in the short-term, as has been done in Leeds. FTA is calling upon Manchester to follow suit, and for the Combined Authority to carefully evaluate whether a charging CAZ, covering such a large area, truly is the best option for the city’s future prosperity and growth.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.  With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.  A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.