Interview: Friends of the Earth on Manchester’s CAZ delay

Last week Greater Manchester announced it will delay its Clean Air Zone (CAZ) until 2022, a year later than originally planned.

Air Quality News spoke to Pete Abel from Friends of the Earth Manchester about what this might be for clean air in the region.

Do you agree that the consultation should be delayed?  

The COVID-19 pandemic is having far-reaching and concerning impacts on people and businesses across Greater Manchester and the country.

Under the current circumstances, we can understand some delay to the consultation while the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) works out alternative arrangements as it is important that the public are able to participate properly in any public consultation.

But, Greater Manchester should be continuing to prepare for the CAZ, so that it can be introduced as quickly as possible, and a delay on implementation to 2022 is of great concern. This is especially as the government are now requiring councils to act to support active travel, and we need to prevent traffic from returning to previous or even worse levels.

Manchester Friends of the Earth supports the demands for greater support from Government to enable Greater Manchester to deliver clean air.    

However, the importance of protecting people’s health has never been clearer, so now is not the time to delay action to tackle illegal and harmful levels of air pollution.

Are you concerned that aspects of the plan or the CAZ will be watered down or removed due to coronavirus?

The CAZ will be needed more than ever, and in fact should be strengthened to include cars, as people who have appreciated the cleaner air we have had due to the dreadful COVID situation, will want to ensure traffic and air pollution don’t return to previous levels, let alone worse levels.  

With air pollution estimated to have been responsible for up to 2000 early deaths a year in Greater Manchester before the lockdown, and with those worst affected by bad air pollution also more likely to suffer the worst health consequences of COVID19, it is imperative that the strongest action is taken as soon as possible to cut levels of deadly air pollution.

Will air quality be prioritised by GMCA when the pandemic ends?

The need to cut air pollution, along with cutting climate emissions, are ongoing crises for the health of people and planet, and with road traffic the key problem for both these challenges, it is essential that as we come out of this dreadful situation we build back better and invest in transport infrastructure that helps not hinders on delivering on these imperatives, including making better active travel provision and road space reallocation permanent.

What lessons should GMCA take from the coronavirus lockdown when it comes to air quality?

Air quality matters to people – many have realised this more recently as the cuts in traffic have also enabled them to breathe easier. Also, the exposure of people to bad air pollution has affected their health and thus sadly also now their susceptibility to the worst effects of COVID.

The GMCA indicated that the coronavirus pandemic has seen air pollution levels drop by 30% and road traffic volumes fall by as much as 52% across Greater Manchester as a result of the lockdown – and at the same time, cycling journeys have increased by 42%.

The government published statutory guidance to clarify the steps that councils should be taking. The guidance requires those local authorities with high levels of public transport use to implement these changes “as swiftly as possible” and “in any event within weeks”.

The GM councils need to be taking urgent action to create ‘pop up’ cycle lanes, widened footpaths, reduce speed limits and introduce traffic restrictions and school streets to enable children to walk and cycle safely to school.

The government should also support calls from Andy Burnham Mayor, to permit the use of ‘implied zebras’ so that Greater Manchester can get on with installing 20,000 of these side-road crossings to give pedestrians greater priority and enable physical distancing.

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