Greater Manchester leaders have renewed calls for the government to urgently provide funding towards their Clean Air Plan ahead of a parliamentary debate on new environmental legislation.
A ‘scandalous’ impasse has delayed the introduction of a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) , which would charge drivers of the most polluting vehicles using the region’s roads from 2021.
The Clean Air Plan would also provide money to allow businesses to upgrade their vehicles, as well as treble the size of the region’s electric vehicle public charging network.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had been expected to provide £116m towards the plan - though only £36m has been committed so far.
For months the combined authority has sought clarity on funding for businesses following the announcement of a new Environment Bill in the Queen’s speech.
With the bill due to be discussed in parliament today (Wednesday), Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham wants the government to make the region’s Clean Air Plan a priority.
He said: “We are serious about tackling air pollution across our region and, alongside the government, we recognise it is the most pressing environmental public health issue facing the country today.
“However, we can’t get on with our plans without a firm commitment about the vital financial support that will help businesses across Greater Manchester upgrade to cleaner vehicles, to avoid the CAZ daily charge.”
The bill, which will be discussed in parliament today, includes proposals to set local authorities legally-binding targets to reduce harmful fine particulate matter in the air.
Mr Burnham has welcomed the proposals but urged the government to engage early with council leaders on how the targets would be put into practice.
“The government has told councils to develop ambitious plans to tackle air quality,” he added.
“Our plan is ambitious but it needs a multi-million-pound financial support package to help local businesses, and requires the government to not duck from its responsibilities.”
Nitrogen dioxide, one of several pollutants known as ‘silent killers’, is linked to 1,200 early deaths a year in Greater Manchester
Regional authorities have launched an awareness campaign encouraging the public to do their bit to improve air quality, while also urging them to keep up to date on how the Clean Air Plan might affect them.
Councillor Andrew Western, lead for the Greater Manchester Green city-region, said: “Poor air quality damages the health of people living, working and travelling in Greater Manchester and early exposure to polluted air can cause a lifetime of ill-health.”
“As the Environment Bill continues to make progress in Parliament, our plans to improve clean air in the region have reached an impasse – it’s scandalous that businesses have been left in the dark.
A government spokesperson said: “We have already provided Greater Manchester with an initial £36m to support their new clean air zone.
“We continue to work with them to further progress these plans to a final stage and will consider next steps in due course.”