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Andy Burnham proposes a non-charging clean air zone for Greater Manchester

Andy Burnham has put forward his vision of how a clean air zone would operate in Manchester, and it doesn’t involve charging drivers.

Instead there is a belief that an ‘investment-led’ approach would be sufficient to allow the council to meet air quality targets by the 2026 deadline.

A previous scheme had been due to come into effect early 2022, but was withdrawn by local leaders owing to issues with the supply of compliant vehicles. Greater Manchester is compelled by law to bring in measures to reduce air pollution by 2026, with the Westminster government preferring a charging system.

Of the Clean Air funding already awarded, Greater Manchester would use around £50m of it on 64 new zero-emission buses – which would enable the entire fleet to be emission-free by 2032 – and the electrification of depots in Manchester, Middleton and Bolton. £30m would go towards a Clean Taxi fund to enable GM-licensed owner to upgrade to cleaner vehicles and £5m on managing traffic flow on roads in Manchester and Salford. 

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: ‘Cleaning up the air that people breathe is a priority for Greater Manchester and we have already started to do that through investment in the Bee Network, which saw the first buses brought back under local control in September.

‘By accelerating investment in the Bee Network to create a London-style integrated public transport network, and upgrading GM-licensed taxis, we can improve air quality faster than if we introduced a Clean Air Zone, and without causing hardship to our residents or businesses.

‘Since the first bus services came under local control, we have listened to feedback to make improvements and deliver change and are already seeing the benefits the Bee Network brings, with more people getting on board with lower fares under a locally controlled service, with new, state-of-the-art electric buses.

‘I’d also ask government to urgently consider allowing Greater Manchester local authorities to remove charging Clean Air Zone signs, as modelling shows that only Greater Manchester’s investment-led plan can meet the legal test placed on the 10 councils to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time and by 2026 at the latest.’

Eamonn O’Brien, who holds the portfolio for Clean Air at Greater Manchester added: ‘We know that there are very serious consequences of dirty air in Greater Manchester and that the health impacts are not always felt equally. We want to do the right thing in the right way, using an investment-led, non-charging plan to clean the air in a supportive and transitional way, that does not create the risk of financial hardship.

‘While we can now prove our case for an investment-led plan, modelling shows that we can’t achieve compliance through a charging Clean Air Zone by 2026. There is now a compelling case for what Greater Manchester has set out – a plan that is fairer, cheaper, more affordable and more democratic.

‘Subject to the approval of the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee at its meeting on December 20, this evidence will be submitted to government. It is then for government to determine which scenario Greater Manchester is to implement – an investment-led, non-charging plan, or a charging regional centre Clean Air Zone.’

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