Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone delayed for ‘substantial’ rethink, says Burnham

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Greater Manchester’s controversial Clean Air Zone has been put on temporary hold following complaints from vehicle fleet operators.

Large numbers of taxi and private hire drivers had staged strikes and protests in towns throughout the region, and these have played a major role in forcing a rethink .

The CAZ was due to launch on May 30, 2022, but now the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the UK Government have agreed a “short time-limited pause” in order to rethink the scheme.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham (pictured) said the changes to the plan would be “substantial” after he warned of concerns over the impact to residents, as the CAZ would hit those driving older vehicles that do not comply with Euro 6 standards for diesel vehicles or Euro 4 for petrol with charges of up to £60 a day.

In a joint statement, DEFRA, GMCA and Mayor Burnham said they would now look to deliver a new clean air plan by the middle of 2022 that would be “fair to the businesses and residents of the city region”. This will meet the Greater Manchester and Government requirements on clean air, as soon as possible, and no later than 2026.

The statement said: “We will deliver improved air quality as soon as possible, not losing ambition but ensuring we take into account the pandemic, global supply chain challenges, improvements already baked into retrofits and the scope as previously laid out.”

The Greater Manchester Class C CAZ scheme included taxis and private hire vehicles as well as buses, coaches, trucks, vans and minibuses – but not private cars. It covered the whole Greater Manchester area, excluding the strategic road network.

But the taxi and private hire sector had expressed severe concerns about future developments, which included a cap on vehicle age and limits on how old a car could be when first registered, which many operators and drivers believed would force them out of the sector as they could not afford to upgrade vehicles in the wake of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Andy Burnham commented on Twitter, saying the council had tried “in good faith to make the Government’s legal direction work. However, changes in the vehicle market mean it is impossible to proceed on the current basis without causing real hardship to some of our residents”. He added that a rethink would help make the scheme fair for everyone.

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the decision. Development manager Robert Downes said: “This is an 11th-hour decision but, that notwithstanding, it is a welcome one. We all want cleaner air but this scheme, as it stood, wasn’t right, wasn’t going to work and wasn’t practical. It was going to ruin people.”

He added: “The government and Greater Manchester now need to go back to the drawing board and come back with proposals – and a time frame – that will give businesses time to better prepare to drive the change.”