Greater Manchester’s councillors have agreed to introduce a new clean air zone. Under new proposals, buses, lorries and taxis could face fines of as much as £100 per day, should their vehicles not meet clean air guidelines.

However, it won’t just be just commercial vehicles which will be forced to pay fines if they don’t meet new clean air guidelines. Those who own an older vehicle will also have to prove that toxicity of waste emissions falls within agreed clean air thresholds.

This developed has hardly come as a bolt from the blue for those in the know. Recently, diesel vehicles have been in the spotlight with clean air campaigner’s adamant that diesel emissions are especially harmful. In response to this, levies such as VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) have been introduced.

Exploring the idea of having specific areas located within Manchester City Centre designated as clean air zones is a clear indication of the Manchester’s commitment to improving the environment for all concerned – something that has been on the council’s agenda for more than two years.

A New Dawn for Motoring in Manchester

At the first full council meeting to discuss the proposed changes, councillors agreed to investigate the possibility of banning through traffic inside the inner ring road. Although no details of how any measures would take shape or the charges motorists would face, councillors have agreed that the feasibility of creating a clean air zone bounded by the Manchester/Salford inner ring road should be explored.

The news is in stark contrast to comments made by Major Andy Burnham in late 2017. At the time, the major championed trialling electric buses and car sharing whilst encouraging flexible working hours and improving access to public transport and renovating train stations.

At the time, Manchester’s mayor was steadfast in his commitment to improving congestion and traffic bottlenecks, with pollution perceived as just a facet of the larger problems faced by those living and working in Manchester City Centre. However, no pledge was made to tackle the problem of pollution hotspots head on.

Under new proposals, the issue of pollution has been placed in the forefront of councillor’s minds, with Labour councillors viewing finding a solution to the issue as integral to the ongoing health and well-being of Manchester’s community.

Jon Connor Lyons and Marcus Johns spearheaded the latest proposal and have received unanimous support by both local Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians. Both Lyons and Johns believe that London’s ‘ultra-low emissions zone which charges drivers of older cars, in addition to older motorbikes, lorries, taxis and vans £12.50 to drive into the nation’s capital has been integral to successfully slashing toxic nitrogen dioxide emissions by 30% in the space of a few months.’

It’s clear that political opinions are swaying towards making Manchester a city that takes environmental matters seriously. Banning through traffic inside the inner ring road may well be just the beginning of wholesale motoring changes.

Manchester Joins the Nationwide Drive Towards Cutting Emissions

Manchester isn’t the only UK city determined to promote cleaner air in the city centre. York, Bristol, Birmingham and Oxford have also rallied to throw their support behind new proposals. Advocates of banning traffic in built-up, populous areas point to the fact that in large cities reasons for driving through the city centre are becoming increasingly sparse, especially with the wealth of public transport options.

This is no more apparent than in Manchester. With an expanded Metrolink infrastructure which can accommodate passengers travelling around the city centre and suburban areas on the outskirts with ease and convenience and the expected reform to the bus network through franchising – something that Major Andy Burnham has made on of his priorities, commuting in and around Manchester is more accessible than ever before. Do we even need to drive through the city centre?

It’s, perhaps, unfair to say that Manchester is merely joining a nationwide drive toward a change in commuting. If anything, the city is at the forefront of any change and demonstrating a progressive attitude towards creating better, more efficient and cleaner means of transportation.

The Health Consequences of Pollution in the City Centre

Current pollution levels in Manchester City Centre have long been a cause of concern. Andy Burnham cites these and says that there is no reason not to act. Moreover, by introducing a charging zone Job Connor Lyons is firm in his belief that Manchester must be ambitious in its plan to make the city safer for everyone who lives and works there. This includes taking a proactive approach to pollution.

Indeed, Manchester’s plans to improve air quality in the city centre has been supported by all ten of the councils of Greater Manchester. Although the most polluting offenders – older cars, lorries, taxes and buses have been consistently mentioned for the volume of carbon dioxide (C02), carbon monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), not too mention a wealth of hydrocarbons and particulates emitted by their exhaust are highly toxic to people, we’re yet to experience any rubber-stamped policies. But that’s not to say that we won’t begin to see sweeping changes in the coming years.

The Future

At present there’s a plan, which Andy Burnham has submitted, that will see a charge being levied for vans travelling across Greater Manchester, starting from 2023. This falls in line with Manchester’s legal responsibility to introduce appropriate measures to cut pollution in every area significantly.

The scale of any changes across the whole of Greater Manchester remains to be seen. Insiders have speculated that any pollution discussion has been thrown to the forefront of political discourse to coincide with the general election of earlier in the year.

What’s abundantly clear is that Manchester is determined to introduce measures to cut pollution in the city, and paying a toll may well be the most effective means of achieving environmental objectives.

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