Andy Burnham has suggested that the most controversial part of the upcoming Clean Air Zone could potentially be redrawn – while a senior minister has said he has an “open mind” about what help the government can provide.
This morning, the mayor met with ‘leveling up’ secretary Michael Gove to discuss the zone, which has sparked outrage among sole proprietorships, small businesses and the taxi industry.
READ MORE: What’s really happening with the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone?
Drivers of non-compliant vans and taxis will be charged with driving into or within Greater Manchester from May next year under a government mandate plan aimed at reducing illegally high levels of air pollution. But many of those affected say it will drive their businesses to the wall.
It has been exacerbated by a sharp rise in the price of used vehicles during the pandemic – meaning there are fears that a £ 120 million government support fund would not be enough to complete the transition.
As a result, the mayor and council leaders this week decided to go back to the ministers to request more funding. They were to discuss the issue with Michael Gove today during a visit to Manchester.
But talking to the men ahead of the meeting, Andy Burnham seemed to go further, suggesting that not only is there more need for financial support, but that the scheme itself could potentially be changed.
“I think the key is whether we can reconsider how phase two works,” he said of van and taxi taxes, which are not due to take effect until next year. Trucks and buses are expected to see charging from May, a move he said had ‘broad support’.
“And I think there’s a possibility that we can do something different but still achieve compliance, and I think that’s in the area now that we’re opening up for talks with the government.”
Pushed on what it could mean in addition to extra funding, the mayor declined to go into details.
“It will involve more money, because it is clear that the vehicle market has changed,” he said, pointing to research from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which shows price increases of up to 60 per cent. in the used market.
“It could inevitably mean more money. But I think there’s a way to reconsider how we can come to compliance. I do not want to go into all the details about it today.
“That is what the review is for. Are there alternative ways to get to legal air as soon as possible? ”
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Clean Air Zone has been years in the making and has its roots in a number of successful court challenges from the environmental group Client Earth.
After repeatedly losing to advocates in the High Court, ministers handed over the legal responsibility for cutting back on air pollution levels – particularly nitrogen dioxide – to local authorities. A directive published in 2020 required Greater Manchester to introduce a tax zone for the most polluting vehicles, other than private cars, so that pollution could be reduced to legal levels by 2024.
However, global supply chain problems have seen the price of used vans and taxis rise sharply during the pandemic, prompting further analysis of the business case from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Leaders this week decided to return to the government for further talks on driver funding, asking ministers for an ‘urgent and fundamental revision’ of Phase Two policies.
Nevertheless, the mayor seemed to go further in suggesting that it might be possible to have an alternative scheme that could still meet legal air pollution targets.
Speaking to the MEN ahead of his meeting with the mayor, Michael Gove – who was environmental secretary when the CAZ was drafted – said he was open to discussions.
“That’s one of the things I know I want to discuss with Andy today,” he said, adding that he had also discussed CAZ with the mayor when he held the minister’s brief.
“We both have a commitment to ensuring that people have an environment that is healthy, but we also know that it requires a partnership between central and local government. So I have an open mind about what we can do to help.
“I’m not going to make a specific promise now because I want to understand from Andy what it is that can help.
“But in the end, when we think of a level up, when we think of a city like Manchester, I think everyone agrees that we both want to have an attractive natural environment, we want to improve public health, but we want to also want to make sure that the business community – especially the small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the backbone of the prosperity of this city – can also flourish in the future. ”
Encouraged as to whether it meant the possibility of further business support, he added: “I want to discuss with Andy today exactly what is required and I want to make sure I have a proper understanding of the pressure he is facing. so that we can then review what it is we can do to help. ”