Next year, the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone will begin. This zone is a requirement from the national Government and affects HGVs, taxis and buses. Any vehicles in those categories that don’t hit the clean air standard will face a charge. This zone does not affect domestic cars.
However, bizarrely, the Government have not included any roads run by Highways England in their guidance. Some of these roads and motorways are the most polluting in my constituency, and vehicles that don’t meet the clean air standard will be able to continue to travel freely on these roads without any penalty. This is incredibly counter-productive and risks a scenario where high polluting vehicles will simply travel along specific routes to avoid charges.
This was almost the case in Stalybridge and Hyde, where my colleague Jonathan Reynolds, Tameside Council and Transport for Greater Manchester had to fight so that the Mottram Crawl trunk road didn’t become a loophole for the most polluting vehicles to get into Greater Manchester by the back door. Their hard work means that the trunk road will be the only government road included in the Clean Air Zone because of the unique circumstances surrounding the placement of the road.
It’s clear then that this government mandated zone needs more work. We cannot have a situation where high polluting vehicles are exempt from paying their fair share because the Government haven’t made the scheme tough enough.
That being said, there are obviously benefits to the scheme, and I am glad that the Government is taking some form of action. Clean air zones in other cities (both in the UK and across Europe) have reduced air pollution considerably.
However, it’s really important that we don’t leave drivers of these vehicles in the lurch, which is why Greater Manchester Combined Authority have earmarked over £150 million pounds to help convert non-compliant taxis, buses and commercial vehicles into lower emission vehicles. For Clean Air Zones to work, we need to get commercial vehicle drivers on board, and support them so that they can make the urgent changes required to their vehicles.
Air pollution is an invisible killer and needs to be properly tackled. A Clean Air Zone is welcome, but it needs to be detailed and robust to have maximum impact. With a tougher scheme alongside a focus on building a fantastic public transport network, we can drastically reduce air pollution, and help to build a greener, cleaner future for ourselves and future generations.