Greater Manchester’s Clean Air leaders will be asked to seek the government’s permission to put the second phase of Clean Air Zone (CAZ) funding on hold and ask for an urgent and fundamental government review of the policy, including into the availability and affordability of cleaner vehicles.
A report to the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee next Thursday (20 January) will set out emerging evidence that global supply chain issues could increase the costs and reduce availability of cleaner vehicles.
More work is needed to understand whether this could create significant financial hardship for commercial vehicle users – already facing fuel and cost of living increases on top of the impact of the pandemic. What this means for Greater Manchester local authorities, and its impact on their ability to comply on time with a legal direction from government to tackle illegal levels of air pollution, is also to be determined.
With nearly £100m of clean vehicle funding support due to open at the end of January, officials are recommending that councillors seek permission from the Secretary of State to pause these funds until government undertakes an urgent review of the supply chain issues, to understand what this could mean for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan.
This would look to ensure that the right funding arrangements can be put in place quickly that better reflect the additional costs and vehicle availability problems that businesses are facing.
Greater Manchester secured £120m in government funding towards upgrading non-compliant commercial vehicles but government did not agree to provide additional hardship funding.
The report confirms that the first phase of the Clean Air Zone due to launch in May 2022 – applying to buses, coaches, HGVs and taxi and private hire vehicles which are not registered in Greater Manchester – should go ahead, including the ongoing provision of funding support for HGVs and buses to upgrade. Greater Manchester coach operators who need more time to upgrade are being urged to apply for an exemption to 1 June 2023.
Air pollution is a public health crisis that contributes towards 1,200 deaths a year in Greater Manchester and modelling has shown that there are 152 locations across the ten Greater Manchester local authority areas where harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions will remain beyond legal levels without action.
In March 2020, the government issued a legal direction requiring the ten Greater Manchester Councils to address the clean air issue by introducing a Category C charging clean air zone – mainly commercial vehicles including HGVs, buses, coaches, minibuses, vans, taxis and Private Hire Vehicles which do not meet set national standards for NO2 emissions. The most polluting of these specific vehicle types - that do not meet government prescribed emissions standards - will be charged from 1 June 2023 with the most polluting buses, HGVs and non-GM licenced taxis and Private Hire Vehicles charged from 30 May 2022. The Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan sets out support options for those impacted.
The current Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan was prepared with government to meet the terms of this direction to achieve legal NO2 Limit Values in the shortest possible time and by 2024 at the latest. The Zone does not include private cars, mopeds or motorbikes. Despite consistent demands from Greater Manchester’s leaders, the Strategic Route Network – the motorway system - is not included in the Clean Air Zone as government has so far failed to apply the same legal direction to National Highways for the city-region’s motorway network.
The legal direction from government to introduce a Category C charging Clean Air Zone means that Greater Manchester councils must seek permission from the Secretary of State to pause implementation of the second phase of the Clean Air Financial Support Scheme. An online checker, which tells people if their vehicle would be liable for a Clean Air Zone charge and whether they would qualify for an exemption or funding support, is available at cleanairgm.com/prepare. Since funding support mechanisms for vehicle upgrades were first identified, the global pandemic and associated international trade issues have compounded supply chain shortages in the commercial vehicle market, resulting in dramatic price increases of up to 60%, at a time when many vehicle owners are already dealing with hikes in fuel prices and the cost of living.
In late 2021, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester leaders commissioned a report to look at concerns related to the supply of Clean Air Zone-compliant vehicles, which could affect the availability and cost of some vehicles and people’s ability to upgrade. This could ultimately affect Greater Manchester’s ability to meet air quality targets and therefore benefits to public health. The findings of the report will now be considered by Greater Manchester’s Air Quality Administration Committee.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Everyone in Greater Manchester deserves to breathe clean air but we have always said this cannot be at the expense of those who cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles to make them compliant in this timeframe.
“Clean air can only be achieved by the right package of financial support to help people upgrade their vehicles, and this latest evidence highlights significant challenges in this area. We are worried about what this could mean for those businesses and individuals impacted, and their ability to upgrade as well as our ability to deliver the Clean Air Plan.
“I want to reassure all those people who have been in touch that we are listening to you, and we will make sure your voices are heard.
“So, our Committee will be asked to call on the Secretary of State to undertake an urgent and fundamental review of the policy for the second phase of the Clean Air Zone and to put on hold the next phase of funding – which was due to open at the end of January for vans, taxis and private hire Vehicles – until that review is done.
“The government must also consider as part of that review whether some vehicles – such as motorhomes and horseboxes – that are not used for commercial reasons could be exempted from the Clean Air Zone.
“We will work with ministers and officials to share our findings, but these are matters out of our control and we can’t solve this in Greater Manchester – only government can.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about the Clean Air Zone which is understandably worrying people. Private cars, mopeds and motorbikes are not included in the scheme.
“But it is important people know what it means for them. I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might be included to go to the Clean Air Greater Manchester website and enter their vehicle registration number to find out if their vehicle is in scope.”
Research has shown that road transport is responsible for approximately 80%of NO2 emissions and, while the number of journeys temporarily reduced during the pandemic, they are now back to pre-pandemic levels.
The purpose of Clean Air Zones is to tackle the harmful levels of NO2 pumped out by polluting vehicles by encouraging people to upgrade their vehicles and in turn reduce the damaging health impacts of dirty air. Clean Air Zones are in place in a number of other parts of England and Wales in response to legal directions from the government.
Councillor Andrew Western, Leader of Trafford Council and the city-region’s Clean Air Lead, said: “Poor air quality contributes towards 1,200 deaths in Greater Manchester every year and it affects the most vulnerable people in society: deprived communities, children, elderly people and those with chronic conditions like stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and asthma.
“Thousands of people living in Greater Manchester suffer from heart and respiratory conditions made worse by dirty air, including the 201,000 people with asthma, 74,000 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 99,000 people with coronary heart disease, alongside many others.
“However, we can only clean our air if people can upgrade their vehicles. This emerging new evidence highlights that the supply chain for cleaner vehicles could stop people from upgrading, especially vans which has been particularly hard-hit. As a result, the costs of second and third-hand compliant vehicles have gone up, in some cases by as much as 60%.
“We recognise that this is a problem for two reasons. The point of a Clean Air Zone is not to charge people for driving polluting vehicles, but to encourage them to upgrade to cleaner ones.
“If those vehicles are in short supply or are too costly for affected vehicle owners to buy, we face the real prospect of not meeting our legal duty and risk not cleaning up our air. Instead, it could place a huge financial burden on those already struggling after an incredibly challenging period brought about by the pandemic.
“We take our legal duties seriously, and with so much at stake, it can’t be right that we just ignore this and go ahead until we know more. That’s especially true because at the end of the month, the plan as it currently stands will see the next stage of the Financial Support Scheme open – this is nearly £100m for eligible vehicle owners. But these are global and national issues that Greater Manchester cannot solve.
“But we are committed to cleaning up our air and the first phase of the Clean Air Zone from May 2022 will take the oldest and most polluting buses, HGVs and non-Greater Manchester-licensed taxi and private hire Vehicles off Greater Manchester’s roads. We want to encourage those businesses and individuals affected by this first stage to come forward to find out about the support available to them and are urging coach owners to apply for an exemption to 2023 if they need more time to upgrade.”