Andy Burnham has outlined a radical new plan for a no-charge Clean Air Zone in Manchester.
The mayor is now urging Greater Manchester MPs and councillors to back the new scheme in which category B vehicles – buses, coaches, taxis, private hire cars and HGVs – will be offered financial incentives to go green.
This announcement comes two months after the original plan for a charged Clean Air Zone was shelved and just seven weeks before Manchester’s deadline to submit a new one to the government.
He said: “The red-line is that we will not accept a charging Clean Air Zone in Greater Manchester. And if that is what the government wants, it would have to impose it on us.”
The government has already agreed to extend Manchester’s deadline for low-emission compliance from 2024 to 2026, the mayor said.
Burnham believes that this change in legal directive gives Manchester enough time to meet environmental targets without imposing charges on drivers and business owners.
By the end of the year, Manchester’s bus fleet will be 80% compliant and there have so far been 535 successful applications for funding to upgrade HGV vehicles, he said.
With £120million in government funding already available, Councillor Andrew Western – who was also at the press conference with Burnham as the Manchester Combined Authority’s clean air lead – is not ruling out negotiations for more when it comes to government discussions.
However, the main sticking point will be whether or not the government accepts the no-charge model.
Coun Western said: “We will be negotiating with them, asking to accept the principle of non-charging, and if it’s not accepted, that is a government decision not to accept that.”
The controversial Clean Air Zone plans have been widely criticised over the economic impact it would have on small business owners and taxi drivers.
The initial scheme would have seen drivers of high-emission vehicles charged as much as £60 per day.
Addressing those concerns, Burnham said: “We understand how serious this has been for people, we listened and we acted.
“We are in a position now where we can give people a very different pathway to getting what we all want, which is clean air, but without anyone’s job being threatened by that.”