The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has urged the government to back its clean air proposals with funding or risk hitting the city region’s businesses.
In a letter sent to the GMCA last week, Environment Minister Therese Coffey told the authority to speed up its plans to include vans in its Clean Air Zone, which is set to be introduced in 2021.
The combined authority, which represents all ten of Greater Manchester’s local councils, has rebuffed the request, saying that it has not received the £116m in funding it asked for to help taxi drivers and other businesses upgrade their vehicles in time.
While Coffey agreed in her letter to provide an initial £36m of funding, she warned that the GMCA submitted a ‘very significant funding bid’ and ‘fuller justification’ will be needed to support all of the authority’s proposed measures.
The authority has now requested an urgent meeting with government officials, warning that drivers stuck with non-compliant vehicles may be hit by daily penalties unless the government stumps up all the funding requested.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: ‘Greater Manchester stands ready to move at pace to clean up our polluted air and work in partnership with the government. But it would be unfair to ask Greater Manchester to do this alone and to fund the change by fines on small businesses.
‘Taxi drivers in the city have been calling on us to “play fair on clean airâ€?. We hear that call and want to help people switch. We don’t want to see a single job or business threatened by the process of cleaning up our air. But we can’t guarantee this without help from the government.’
In March of this year, Greater Manchester submitted its outline clean air proposals to government after it was ordered to reduce its nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as quickly as possible.
The plans contained numerous measures including a £116m vehicle upgrade programme, 600 new electric vehicle charging points, and a Clean Air Zone, the largest proposed CAZ in the UK.
Under the city region’s plans, once implemented in 2021 the CAZ will charge high-polluting HGVs, buses, taxis and coaches for driving around Greater Manchester if they don’t comply with NO2 emissions standards.
The GMCA had planned to put off expanding the CAZ to vans and minibuses until 2023 after consultation revealed that affected businesses won’t be ready to comply by 2021.
However, the government has now ordered Greater Manchester to bring this forward anyway to comply with legal targets in ‘the shortest possible time.’
Cllr Andrew Western, Greater Manchester’s Green City-region portfolio lead, said: ‘We don’t want people who have no choice but to stick with their polluting vehicle in the short term paying a daily penalty.
‘But, by demanding that Greater Manchester bring forward the implementation of a Clean Air Zone affecting non-compliant vans by two years, that’s exactly what the ministerial instruction would do. It’s counter-productive.’
The GMCA recently came under fire from the environmental lawyers ClientEarth, who criticised the authority’s failure to include cars under the scope of its CAZ.
The authority said that such a CAZ would not reduce air pollution any quicker and would have a disproportionate effect on Greater Manchester’s more deprived communities.
Numerous other councils have responded to orders to tackle their poor air quality after the government recently issued a fresh round of directions.
Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils must now submit their plans to government by 12 November after they took longer than expected to process over 19,000 responses to its public consultation.
The councils, which are considering introducing tolls on vehicles crossing the River Tyne, said they will be publishing the analysis of their consultation shortly.
Basildon council has also rejected the government’s calls to bring in a charging Clean Air Zone, saying it would be ‘incredibly detrimental’ to the borough’s businesses and the local economy.
All of the above councils are set to provide the full business case for their clean air proposals to the government by the end of this year.
Photo Credit – Daniel Nisbet