Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham asked the Government for £116m to help fund upgrades to local businesses to enable them to switch to cleaner vehicles, the Government said a resounding NO and has offered a ring-fenced £36m for a networked camera system that would issue fines to those in breach.
Not only that, the 10 local councils have been told to accelerate the 2023 time frame to include vans in the plans by two years, this would see non-compliant vans being forced to pay the daily charge within just 18 months.
Some company owners have said that this would have an enormous effect on their businesses.
The funding was asked for to help fund the transition of public transport and commercial vehicles that do not comply with the standards set out in the Mayors plan.
• £59m was earmarked for the creation of a clean freight fund, to help companies upgrade HGV's and vans
• £29m would have supported a switch to a greener bus and coach fleet in the city-region
• £28m was set to help hackney cabs and private hire vehicles upgrade their vehicles to be compliant.
After taking three months to respond the Government has decided that the camera system presents a better option, sadly not for those who need it most. It has been said by taxi drivers and small distribution companies that the new compliance rules would cripple them to such a point that many would be forced to go out of business.
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 air’. 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.
“That’s why we’re backing their call. Our message to the Government is clear: give Greater Manchester the funds we need to clean up our air and don’t impose a ‘clean air tax’ on our businesses. Give Greater Manchester the same support as London and play fair on clean air.”
Green City-region Portfolio Lead for Greater Manchester, Councillor Andrew Western, added:
“Poor air quality is the largest environmental public health issue facing the UK, with air pollution estimated to contribute to the equivalent of 1,200 deaths in Greater Manchester each year.
“Our proposals are clearly designed to take the dirtiest vehicles off our streets as quickly as possible. 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.
“We received thousands of responses to our Clean Air conversation in May and June which shows that people and businesses in Greater Manchester care a lot about cleaning up our air and want to work with councils to get the right final plan for the city-region.
“We want to support businesses now to upgrade their vehicles. We’ve asked government for an unprecedented £116m of clean vehicle funding which would go directly to businesses using vans, taxi and private hire drivers, freight and bus operators to upgrade their fleets in the next two-to-four years. But the government has committed no Clean Air Plan funding at all to help Greater Manchester businesses deal with air pollution from their vehicles.”
However, not everyone is convinced the plan is workable as the Greater Manchester Spacial Framework (GMSF) is set to see hundreds of thousands of new homes built in the coming years, many of which will bring even more traffic to already congested roads.
Campaigners in Irlam have slammed the proposals as ludicrous at a time when the region is set to embark on the largest building spree it has seen in many many years.
One campaigner told us,
"The GM Mayor can't seriously be suggesting to clean up the air on the one hand whilst creating even more pollution via extra traffic on the roads with the other?
"It's totally nonsensical and you really could not make it up.
"He wants to improve the air quality across the region by imposing charges that would see many small business struggle and in turn many families without jobs? It is not just the smaller businesses who would struggle, even the larger ones would struggle."
The Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan proposals are a collaboration between the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).