Greater Manchester tables ambitious proposals to clean up harmful air pollution

February 26th, 2019

Greater Manchester leaders will be asked this Friday (1 March) to endorse wide-ranging proposals to tackle the urgent problem of air pollution across the city-region.

Reaffirming a joint commitment to make Greater Manchester one of the healthiest, cleanest and greenest city-regions in Europe, the approach to dealing with poor air quality is part of ambitious plans to make Greater Manchester one of best places in which to live, work and grow old.

Poor air quality is the largest environmental public health issue facing the UK. Pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (tiny particles of dust, soot and liquid droplets) are linked to a range of serious health problems and reduced life expectancy.

It has been estimated that polluted air contributes to the equivalent of 1,200 deaths a year in Greater Manchester alone1. Road transport causes 80% of NO2 emissions at the roadside, mainly from diesel vehicles.

The report to Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) just published sets out an outline business case for the ‘Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan to tackle nitrogen dioxide exceedances’, a proposed package of measures to significantly reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from road vehicles2.

It puts forward an unprecedented upgrade programme to clean up the city-region’s bus, HGV, taxi and van fleets – future-proofing the road transport system and helping to make it, and the environment, fit for residents today and for generations to come.

It also proposes a Clean Air Zone covering all 10 Greater Manchester local authorities, a population of nearly three million people across 500 square miles, the largest outside London.

The zone would require owners of high-polluting, non-compliant HGVs, buses, taxis, private hire vehicles, vans and minibuses – but not cars3 – to pay a daily penalty to drive in Greater Manchester4.

Modelling shows that including the most-polluting cars would not have reduced air pollution levels any quicker. This is due to the size of the Clean Air Zone required in Greater Manchester and the short timescales for implementation – which together mean that upgrading the most-polluting cars in time would not be feasible. This would result in non-compliant cars travelling across local roads in Greater Manchester, and therefore continuing to contribute to air pollution levels. Furthermore, the inclusion of cars would also impact on more deprived communities, for whom the cost of upgrading to a newer, cleaner vehicle isn’t a viable option.

The report concludes that considerable financial support will be needed from national government to help clean up Greater Manchester’s air while supporting businesses to switch to cleaner vehicles and sustaining economic growth. A Clean Air Zone would not be introduced without the necessary government funding for those support measures.

An unprecedented package of funding of £116m has been proposed to help the city-region’s freight and logistics sector, taxis and bus operators make the move to low-emission vehicles over the next two to four years.

The proposals would also see a significant investment in 600 new public rapid electric vehicle charging points across the city-region – nearly trebling the size of the GMEV electric charging network. One business which has already invested in electric vehicles and is encouraging its staff to use sustainable travel wherever possible is Seddon Construction. The business has already invested in electric and plug-in hybrid cars and has installed electric charging points at its head office in Bolton.

The proposed Clean Air Zone would be implemented from 2021 and would initially mean that owners of the most polluting buses, non-compliant HGVs, taxis and private hire vehicles would be required to pay a daily penalty to drive in Greater Manchester.

From 2023 the Clean Air Zone would also incorporate non-compliant vans, when the availability of compliant vans on the market will make switching a viable option.

Eleanor Roaf, Greater Manchester’s Lead Director of Public Health for air quality, said: “Air pollution is making us sick.

“It contributes to major health problems including breathing illnesses, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. And it affects the most vulnerable people in our society most badly – the elderly, sick, children and people living in the most deprived areas.

“Poor air quality is Greater Manchester’s most pressing environmental public health issue and the proposals set out in this report represent a crucial step in cleaning up our air.”

Councillor Alex Ganotis, Greater Manchester Green City-Region Lead, added: “Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities are showing leadership in developing ambitious proposals to tackle nitrogen dioxide roadside emissions urgently.

“Our proposals offer a balanced approach to addressing this very serious problem while taking potential social and economic impacts into account. They are the result of detailed technical work to understand the scale of the issue, consider options in line with the government’s process, and start producing the right scheme for Greater Manchester.

“However, we know that the right solution can only be developed through engagement with the groups most affected by the proposals.

"I look forward to local councils considering the proposed package of measures and I can assure everyone in Greater Manchester that they’ll have the chance to have their say so we can shape together how we tackle air pollution before any final decisions are made.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “This is not a congestion charge by the front door or back door. Instead, this is a balanced package of measures to clean up our air without punishing businesses or deprived communities.

"But we need government to guarantee the right level funding to help us tackle the scale of the problem without damaging our local economies. That includes adequate financial support so we can help businesses make the change to cleaner vehicles.

"Without this backing we won’t be able to do what’s required to drastically improve our air quality."

Chris Fletcher, Marketing & Campaigns Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “From a business perspective we support these draft proposals but there are two objectives that they must meet.

“The first is obviously to tackle and resolve the issue of poor air quality which is costing people their health and in some cases their lives.

“The second is to ensure that the Government provides the necessary support to ensure that these draft proposals do not risk impacting the economic success of Greater Manchester.

“I am pleased that what is being announced today acknowledges both of these objectives, and we look forward to helping shape these draft proposals over the coming months.”

The 1 March 2019 GMCA meeting will be asked to commend the collaborative approach Greater Manchester is taking to tackle polluted air.

Each of the 10 local authorities will be asked to approve the outline business case for the proposals before they are submitted to government at the end of March 2019.

A final business case would be developed by the end of 2019, following public consultation, and subject to further local authority approvals.

1 Public Health Outcome (PHOF) indicator 3.01, 2016.

2 In common with more than 60 areas across the UK, Greater Manchester has been instructed by government to consider introducing a Clean Air Zone as part of measures to help meet legal annual limits for harmful NO2 levels on some local roads in the shortest possible time. More than 250 locations on 152 roads in Greater Manchester have been identified as needing action.

3 Analysis of several Clean Air Zone options included the option of a GM-wide Zone including cars. The modelling shows that including the most-polluting cars would not have reduced air pollution levels any quicker than the proposed Clean Air Zone, and would have disproportionately, negatively affected more deprived communities.

4 There would be a daily penalty payment for non-compliant vehicles travelling in the proposed Clean Air Zone. Taxis and private hire would pay a proposed £7.50 from 2021 and vans £7.50 from 2023. Heavy goods vehicles and buses would pay a proposed £100. These indicative penalty rates have been estimated for the purposes of the outline business case and are subject to refinement through development of a full business case, consultation and engagement. They have been estimated at similar levels to other UK local authorities at outline business case stage.