Second phase of plan to be reassessed for van drivers - and a sheep on a bus
- Commercial vehicle drivers say charge will put them out of business
- Mayor has agreed to meet pressure group RethinkGM
- Talks with government needed to before any changes to Clean Air Plan can be made
- The Clean Air Zone scheme will still apply to HGVs, buses and out-of-region taxis from this May
- UPDATE: GMCA has released an official statement which has been added to the end of this article
The 471 bus route from Bolton to Bury passes through a semi-rural stretch of Bury Road locally referred to as “the bit between Top Bull and Bottom Bull”. Bottom Bull is now Henighan’s Eat & Drink pub but “Bull” references remain the local equivalent of longitude and latitude. At around 1pm on Tuesday 11 January, Jade Hutchinson took Colin on the 471. Just a normal local bus journey, apart from the fact that Colin is a sheep.
Jade, who trades livestock for a living and has an 80-strong flock, had decided to take Colin on the local bus to highlight the growing anger with the Clean Air Zone that is due to be imposed on Greater Manchester from May 2022.
It’s like they have gone out to annoy both Greta Thunberg and Jeremy Clarkson at once.
Jade was joined by her friend Rebecca and Ernie the pony. Rebecca’s family are facing the prospect of having to replace five vehicles at an eye-watering cost or pay the £10 per day charges on each vehicle. Neither option is sustainable for them.
The same day that Jade and Colin made their protest, a meeting of the Clean Air Joint Committee decided to reconsider how the second phase of the Clean Air Plan will work, including pausing the funding draw-down until further negotiation with the Government.
In practice, this most likely means the Clean Air Zone is still legally required to go ahead but that GM will ask for more money to support those affected by the scheme.
While the move to make Greater Manchester’s air cleaner has been on the city region’s agenda for over three years, protest has only just caught fire recently. A Facebook group, RethinkGM, was formed in December and has since gained around 50,000 members. A go-slow protest was organised in Stockport and earlier this week a convoy of taxi drivers gathered outside Bolton Town Hall to make their feelings clearly known.
Last Wednesday, at his regular online press conference, Andy Burnham responded to a question regarding the Clean Air Zone put to him by Confidentials: "I recognise that this is a tough time for people who may be affected by this. I do need to remind people that it was the government at national level that imposed a legal direction on all ten councils of Greater Manchester... it isn't the case that we are in a position where we can just ignore that."
The next day a statement was issued which read: “We know this is a major challenge for many individuals and businesses which is why we have always been clear with Ministers that it must be accompanied by a fair package of financial support. While the Government has provided £120m, we are concerned that they have so far failed to agree to our request for additional support for those who will find it hardest to make the change. We also warned them of our ongoing concerns about the vehicle supply chain and the cooperation of National Highways."
Later, Mr Burnham told BBC Radio Manchester that the government had "failed to agree to a request for additional support for those who will find it hardest to make the change."
"We have to review the situation that we are in and go back to the government and say you need to do more here because these businesses have struggled during the pandemic," he said.
As Confidentials has previously reported, in 2017 national government placed a legal responsibility on local authorities to develop plans to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Local authorities were instructed to implement a charging Clean Air Zone unless they could identify alternative measures which are at least as effective in reducing NO2 air pollution, and as quickly.
As the government has mandated the plan, legally only they can repeal it. However, a petition put to parliament to repeal the Clean Air Zone was rejected. The response said: "Decisions about local clean air zones are a matter for the relevant local authorities, not the Government or Parliament."
Interestingly, Leeds put together plans for a CAZ, to the point of putting up the cameras that would identify target vehicles at a cost of £6 million. However, NO2 levels fell within legal limits as owners of taxis, buses and HGVs all rushed to replace their vehicles with electric or low emissions versions so that now between 80% and 90% of target vehicles meet emissions standards. The CAZ was able to be scrapped after a joint review. It would not have been possible for Leeds City Council to take that step without Government say so.
Critics of CAZ
Richard Kilpatrick, formerly Lib Dem councillor for Didsbury West, is not surprised at the furore. He tweeted: "It unfairly hits commercial vehicles and ignores private vehicle owners. It’s like they have gone out to annoy both Greta Thunberg and Jeremy Clarkson at once".
Richard is firmly behind environmental policies that will clean up the air. Indeed, he would go further and include private cars in the CAZ. But he believes that the way the implementation has been managed has been divisive and made the situation worse:
“I sat on the scrutiny panels of Manchester City Council when this was going through scrutiny and to be honest felt that the little time it was given and sheer lack of skill for any of the counsellors to adequately scrutinise it was clear.
"CAZ will be like Marmite which is why it needs to at least be adequate enough to meet the need of the issue.
"I made the case that I have no idea why they couldn’t blueprint the implementation of private cars [within the CAZ] for example - give us a five-year strategy of implementation.
"Likewise there was no real engagement with commercial vehicle owners that would be hit by the charge. As a result, it is turning the section of society that needs convincing that these policies are important further from that realisation. So by not producing the radical plan we need, time-stamping implementation and failing to have the conversation, it will just annoy more people and it will be branded as the congestion charge by the back door. I don’t think any side of the argument will be happy with what GMCA have published."
Robert Downes, FSB Development Manager for Greater Manchester, is someone who has long been banging the drum for greater awareness among small business owners who rely on vans and other commercial vehicles: “The massive backlash we have seen from our small business community this week comes as no surprise to the FSB – nor should it to the policymakers in charge of the CAZ who were well aware of the existing scheme’s many shortcomings, particularly around lack of funding and poor levels of awareness among affected businesses. The latter point has now been addressed, and the result has seen an explosion of anger.
“In December 2020, we wrote to every council in GM warning the CAZ in the format proposed, with the pandemic as a backdrop, would be extremely damaging for businesses, and needed to be paused and taken back to the drawing board, not least until the full effects of Covid on the regional economy and the businesses that operate here were fully understood."
"In the current climate, because of Covid and the economic fallout it has triggered still very much being an underlying factor, the Clean Air Zone is untenable in its current format. The sheer size of the scheme is uncalled for, the pollution modelling data on which it’s been based and sold is meaningless and out of date, and the financial agreement with Government should never have been signed off last summer.
“If the CAZ is to go ahead, discussions around the financial scheme must be reopened with the relevant ministers, and if a satisfactory settlement cannot be agreed, then the mayor should say the no to the scheme."
What was the funding ask?
Greater Manchester had already secured £120 million for all aspects of the Clean Air Zone, including £87.9m for vans, HGVs, coaches and minibuses; £21.4m for GM-licensed taxi and private hire vehicle owners, drivers and operators to switch to cleaner vehicles and nearly £18 million to clean up buses. However, protestors are saying that it is just not enough to cover the costs of replacing vehicles and will hit businesses too hard.
Reviewing minutes from previous council meetings is instructive. After Labour's Linda Thomas called for "a well-funded scrappage scheme", the fury at Conservative-led Bolton Council that her pleas fell on deaf ears is palpable: "There is no overriding national strategy to tackle this issue. There is no initiative led and promoted by HM Government on what is such a serious issue. Instead, HM Government have, over several years, cherrypicked the ‘worst’ polluted areas and instructed the geographically relevant local council to take action. This ignores many other urban areas who whilst currently ‘compliant’ on clean air, could in due course receive a directive.
"A proper national strategy on clean air should have been formulated around the provision of adequate funding for a national vehicle scrappage and retrofit scheme for all non-compliant vehicles.
"We contend that the quickest method by which harmful emissions can be reduced is through a generous national vehicle scrappage scheme rather than punitive charging measures, which will cause harm to innocent self-employed and employed people, who are guilty of nothing more than making the same vehicle purchase choices as everyone else."
While Andy Burnham has "paused the funding button", legally he still needs to start cleaning up the air by 2024. By not yet claiming the funding for the second phase he is potentially in a position to negotiate for more money to support van drivers.
In one extremely dramatic scenario, the Government could impose Commissioners on Greater Manchester and transfer all GMCA powers to them if Mr Burnham refused to implement the second phase of the Clean Air Plan. The commissioners could then go ahead and implement the Clean Air Zone on the government's behalf, and van drivers would be charged on schedule.
However, the government has so far been keen to distance itself from the fallout of the Clean Air Plan, so it seems unlikely it would take responsibility for charging van drivers, especially when the Conservatives would rather keep their ire directed at Mr Burnham.
The best-case scenario is that the government and the ten councils of Greater Manchester take another look at the funding package together and find a way to help the estimated 70,000 van owners in Greater Manchester upgrade.
For those of you wanting to know how Colin got on with his foray into the work of politics - he, Jade, Rebecca and Ernie boarded a designated 471 service from the stop outside Little Feet Day Nursery, rode past Top Bull and alighted at the stop just after Ainsworth Hall Road.
Colin wanted to go upstairs and Ernie left a dirty protest but other than that the animals were reportedly better behaved than many passengers on Greater Manchester bus services.
Having your own chauffer-driven double-decker might be the way forward for moving livestock but we will have to see how the costings work out. Thanks to Ernie, there will be extra cleaning fees involved at the very least.
For more information on the Clean Air Zone see https://cleanairgm.com
Statement from Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Combined Authority
Greater Manchester is experiencing dangerous and illegal air quality due to NO2 exhaust emissions and other vehicle pollution, leading to serious health problems and 1,200 premature deaths every year. Modelling has shown that there are 152 locations across the 10 Greater Manchester local authority areas where NO2 emissions will remain beyond legal levels without action.
In March 2020, the government issued a legal direction requiring the ten Greater Manchester local authorities to address the problem by introducing a Category C charging clean air zone - which principally addresses commercial vehicles including HGVs, buses, coaches, minibuses, vans, taxis and private hire vehicles that do not meet prescribed national standards for NO2 emissions. The current Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan was prepared with government to meet the terms of this direction to achieve legal NO2 Limit Values in the shortest possible time and by 2024 at the latest.
Throughout development of the Plan, the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities have worked to understand and address the economic consequences of the national plan for businesses that operate locally. It is clear the path to compliance with the legal direction and to cleaner air is dependent on the ability of those owning the most polluting non-compliant vehicles to upgrade to cleaner vehicles. The Plan includes £120m of government funding to support those with non-compliant vehicles to upgrade their vehicle, with a mechanism to review funding arrangements if demand is predicted to outstrip our current budget.
Since the current plan was agreed in July 2021, emerging evidence from businesses and trade has highlighted significant challenges related to supply chain issues and inflation. Based on this evidence, there is a fundamental concern that these global and national factors may impact on the ability of local businesses and individuals to upgrade their vehicles and whether the current financial support package agreed with government – including nearly £100m of funds due to open at the end of January for light goods vehicles, minibuses, coaches and taxis and private hire vehicles – is sufficient.
The Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee will meet on 20th January to consider the outcome of this work and what its implications means for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan and will confirm that the terms of the legal direction that Greater Manchester authorities are subject to states that authorities: “must not vary, revoke or suspend their implementation of the local plan for NO2 compliance … without the prior written consent of the Secretary of State.”
The Committee will therefore be recommended to seek approval from the Secretary of State requesting to pause opening of phase two Clean Air Funds at the end of January 2022, to enable an urgent and fundamental joint policy review with government to identify how a revised policy can be agreed to deal with the supply issues and local businesses’ ability to comply with the Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan. The Committee will also be asked to confirm that preparations to launch the first phase of the Clean Air Zone charging from May 2022 – buses, HGVs and non-Greater Manchester taxi and private hire vehicles - will continue.
Read next: Burnham announces bid to deliver first carbon-neutral city region transport network
Read again: Meet the women taking on Manchester City Council
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