Skip to content

How SMEs can prepare for Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone

Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone could be just a year away. Rebecca Chedd, Environmental Business Advisor at GC Business Growth Hub, sets out how businesses should prepare.

Trouble with air pollution in our towns and cities has been consistently in the news for several years now. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide and tiny particulate matter from vehicle exhausts, particularly diesel vehicles, are linked with respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and even dementia. In Manchester, which has the highest levels of air pollution in the North West, emergency hospital admissions for asthma are more than twice the national average. In total, air pollution is thought to cause around 40,000 early deaths a year nationwide, including 1,200 in Greater Manchester.

What’s a Clean Air Zone?

These shocking statistics mean we have, in the words of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, a moral obligation to act. After being tasked by government to work up a suitable solution, Greater Manchester has set out plans for a comprehensive Clean Air Zone (CAZ), within which the most polluting vans, lorries, private hire vehicles, coaches, buses and taxis will be charged a daily penalty for travelling on local roads.

The ultimate aim is to discourage the use of heavily polluting vehicles and encourage businesses to upgrade them to a cleaner model. Greater Manchester isn’t acting alone – a network of Clean Air Zones is being established in major urban areas across the country. However, the scale of Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone is unprecedented outside of London. It will cover the entirety of the city region’s 500 square miles 24 hours a day, encompassing not just Manchester but also Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. 

Under the proposals, non-compliant buses, coaches and HGVs (those typically registered before 2013) would be charged £100 per day from 2021. Non-compliant taxis, private hire vehicles, vans and minibuses (typically pre-2016) would be charged £7.50 per day, although Greater Manchester leaders are pushing for an exemption for vans until 2023.

What does the CAZ mean for my business?

Whether directly or indirectly, every single SME in Greater Manchester will be affected. There are currently around 11,000 non-compliant HGVs and 77,000 non-compliant vans registered in Greater Manchester, notwithstanding the many thousands registered elsewhere that travel through the city region every day. Even if you don’t use a van in your business, your suppliers will, and they will face increasing costs to deliver to you if they don’t upgrade their older vehicles.

Under the current plan, a single non-compliant van using Greater Manchester’s roads five days a week would rack up just under £2,000 in charges over the course of a year. A non-compliant HGV would be charged £26,000.

To support businesses with upgrading their vehicles, Greater Manchester has asked government for a series of Clean Vehicle Funds. One of these is a £59 million Clean Commercial Vehicle Fund, which would provide small businesses, sole traders and the voluntary sector with a discount on a compliant vehicle when scrapping their old one. Officials are also exploring options for a Clean Air Loan Scheme, which could provide capital loans at preferential rates. To encourage more businesses to go electric, Greater Manchester also intends to triple the size of its electric vehicle charging network.

How should I prepare for the CAZ?

The government is currently considering Greater Manchester’s proposals, and a statutory public consultation on the plans will take place over the coming months. In the meantime, here is what you can do to prepare yourself:

Familiarise yourself with Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan: Visit to learn more about the proposals and sign up to receive updates. There is a tool on the website to help you establish whether your vehicle is compliant or not.

Check for Clean Air Zones in other destinations: If you regularly use a van to visit or deliver to other cities, check to see if they have their own Clean Air Zone plans. Birmingham and Leeds will be implementing charging zones later this year, while Sheffield, Bristol and others are finalising proposals.

Calculate the lifetime costs of any non-compliant vehicles: If you have a non-compliant vehicle, work out how much you will likely be charged for its normal expected use and add this cost into your financial forecasts. This will help you build a business case for deciding whether to upgrade the vehicle or pay the penalties.

If you are planning to purchase a new vehicle, make sure it’s compliant: Compliant vehicles are petrol or diesels with a Euro 6 engine, or a hybrid or pure electric model if feasible. There are an increasing number of pure electric vans coming onto the market and although the upfront cost is higher, the lifetime costs are far lower when you take into account running, maintenance and tax. Government grants are available for both vehicles and workplace charging infrastructure.

Don’t rule out tighter requirements in future: When planning your next vehicle purchase, consider the long-term risks of choosing petrol or diesel over electric. An electric vehicle will ensure you are compliant with any possible future climate change or air pollution measures. They also provide additional benefits in terms of environmental performance and improving your corporate image.

Consider the market value of any non-compliant vehicles: Once Clean Air Zones kick in around the country, expect the re-sale value of older vans to drop significantly. Selling sooner rather than later may recoup more funds to invest in a compliant vehicle or electric model.

Speak to your customers and suppliers: It could be less than a year away, yet awareness of the proposed Clean Air Zone remains low amongst SMEs. Make sure your suppliers know about it so that they can make their own mitigation plans.


Please note, The Clean Air Plan is being postponed due to the Covid19 outbreak, and may look different to the original plan. Please see the full update here.

Want to learn more? Get in touch with our Resource Efficiency Team.


This article originally appeared on

Share this post

Rebecca Chedd

Rebecca Chedd, Environmental Business Advisor

Rebecca has eight years' experience of working in the environmental sector and has been supporting SMEs as part of the Hub's Resource Efficiency team since 2015. Rebecca has previously delivered carbon reduction workshops for organisations including Transport for Greater Manchester and Great Places Housing Group. Rebecca holds an MSc in Energy and the Environment and is an Associate Member of IEMA.

GenAI-Powered Chatbot