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Prepare for Clean Air: In Conversation with TfGM

Megan Black, interim head of logistics and environment at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), explains what is being done to support sustainable transport in Greater Manchester and how the region’s proposed Clean Air Zone would work.

Manchester city centre

What does TfGM do?

We’re responsible for delivering the transport policies set by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and its Transport Committee, which is headed up by mayor Andy Burnham and representatives from each of GM’s ten local authorities.

Essentially, it’s our job to do everything we can to keep GM moving – we’re working hard to make the 5.6 million journeys taken across the city region each day cleaner, easier and better-connected.

How do you fit into Greater Manchester’s plans to become carbon neutral?

Achieving GM’s carbon targets will require substantial reductions in carbon emissions from transport, so we have a key role to play. Our priorities include increasing the use of public transport and active travel modes like walking and cycling, tackling the most polluting vehicles on our roads, establishing a zero-emission bus fleet and decarbonising vehicles.

On behalf of the ten GM local authorities, we are also developing GM’s Clean Air Plan.

What is Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Plan?

Like many towns and cities, GM has a serious air pollution problem. Around 1,200 early deaths in our region are linked to air pollution each year – and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from road vehicles is one of the main sources.

In 2017, seven of GM’s local authorities – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford – were directed by government to bring NO2 levels down on local roads as soon as possible. GM chose to respond collectively, so a list of possible measures that the city region could take were developed. The analysis ultimately showed that GM needed a package of measures to tackle the NO2 on local roads as quickly and effectively as possible, while also protecting local people, businesses and the economy.

The Clean Air Plan proposals include a Greater Manchester-wide Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which the most polluting buses, coaches, HGVs, vans, taxis and private hire vehicles would pay a daily charge to drive in; and a multi-million-pound funding package to support local businesses to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

What GM has proposed to government is called a ‘Category C’ Clean Air Zone. The proposed zone would cover the whole of the city region apart from the motorway network, 24 hours a day – but private cars will not be affected. The proposals are that the zone would come into effect from 2021, with an exemption for non-compliant vans until 2023.

Which businesses will be most affected?

Although bus and freight companies with large fleets are understandably the sort of businesses who immediately come to mind, compliant buses and HGVs have been around since 2013. In contrast, compliant vans have only been on the market since 2016 – so it’s smaller businesses who tend not to purchase new vehicles who may be most affected. That’s why GM is proposing to exempt vans from charges until 2023 to give time for a second-hand market to mature. The government currently wants vans to be included from 2021, so we have submitted additional evidence to make our case.

What support will there be to help businesses?

We have asked government for a multi-million funding package to help local businesses upgrade to cleaner vehicles. This includes a £30 million Clean Bus Fund, a £28 million Clean Taxi Fund and a £59 million Clean Commercial Vehicle Fund. We’re currently waiting on the government for confirmation of this funding.

To encourage the use of zero emission electric vehicles, we also plan to treble GM’s already expansive electric vehicle charging network with 300 new charging points.

In addition, our free Travel Choices programme helps businesses promote sustainable travel to their employees. This can include one-to-one support from an expert advisor, a staff travel survey and analysis service, support to develop a staff travel action plan, and corporate ticket offers for public transport. We also have a Sustainable Journeys Accreditation scheme which awards businesses for their progress.

How does Greater Manchester’s plan compare with other cities?

Many other cities around the country have been tasked by government to develop their own Clean Air Plans. The furthest along are Birmingham and Leeds, which will both be launching their Clean Air Zones later this year. Leeds will have a ‘Category B’ zone targeting buses, taxis, private hire vehicles and HGVs, but not vans. Birmingham has opted for a ‘Category D’ zone, which targets all of the above plus cars and motorcycles. In 2019, London implemented its own Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is equivalent to Category D level.

The different classifications mean that vehicles will be affected differently across the country. The government is currently developing an online national vehicle checker tool which drivers will eventually be able to use to find out how their vehicle is affected in different cities.

The UK’s air quality targets were mandated by EU legislation. Could they be scrapped now the UK has exited from the EU?

Not at all. Air quality legislation is already enshrined in UK law, and there is also a new Environment Bill currently going through Parliament which deals directly with air quality. We expect the resulting Environment Act to mandate the introduction of updated air quality targets within the next few years.

Taking robust action to tackle air pollution has strong support from the public, city leaders and in Parliament, so the work will continue regardless of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Does that mean businesses should expect action on air pollution to ramp up in future?

There’s certainly a clear direction of travel if you look at what’s happening across the UK, where there are several examples of measures being introduced that are going above and beyond charges for non-compliant vehicles. For example, in York they are proposing to close streets to traffic, something which is already being trialled in Edinburgh on the first Sunday of each month. In Bristol they are proposing to ban diesel cars outright on certain stretches of road between certain times, on top of their proposed Category D Clean Air Zone.

Manchester City Council has also recently had a motion approved to explore the potential for an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the city centre, like London. It’s still very early days, so we don’t yet know how that will play out – but it does show that you can’t rule out any new developments.

What is likely to happen over the next 12 months?

In the coming months we will launch a statutory consultation on our Clean Air Plan proposals to give residents and businesses in GM an opportunity to have their say. By then, we hope to have the government’s full response to our plan and confirmation of the clean vehicle funding we have requested.

If everything goes forward as proposed, towards the end of the year we would start to see the infrastructure for the Clean Air Zone rolled out, ahead of the zone coming into operation in 2021. This includes automatic number plate recognition cameras and road signs to tell people when they are entering the zone.

All Clean Air Zone signs across the country will use the same cloud symbol, which you can see on the Clean Air Greater Manchester website. The road signs will show each zone’s relevant classification letter to inform motorists about the Clean Air Zone they are driving into.

What else can we expect in Greater Manchester over the coming years?

Last year, the mayor launched Our Network – a 10-year plan to bring all the different modes of public transport together with cycling and walking into an integrated, accessible system with seamless connections, simplified ticketing and an aspiration for capped fares.

Our Network is aligned with GM’s 2040 Transport Strategy, our vision for the next 20 years. By 2040, it’s estimated that there will be an extra 600,000 journeys taking place every day across the city region. At the same time, we’re aiming for 50 per cent of all trips – that’s around three million a day – to be made by walking, cycling or public transport. We’ll be asking government for approximately £3 billion of capital investment to help us do it. You can read more about our plans by visiting

Update (15 April 2020): Greater Manchester has announced that the statutory consultation on the city-region’s Clean Air Plan will be delayed, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more here: Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan Consultation Update

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