If the government demands Greater Manchester has a charging Clean Air Zone then the government will have to impose it, as Greater Manchester councils will refuse to do so, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warned this week.

A charging clean air zone is a "red line" that Greater Manchester Councils will not cross, the Mayor said, particularly in a post-pandemic economy and in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

Manchester’s clean air zone (CAZ) was due to launch on 30 May but plans were put on hold in February over concerns that hauliers and other businesses would struggle to invest in cleaner vehicles, and that the scheme would hit supply chains and the cost and availability of second-hand vehicles. As a result the CAZ was delayed until July.

As Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) prepares to enter into negotiations with the government over what form the Manchester CAZ will take, the Mayor threw down the gauntlet this week.

Speaking at a press conference, he said: "We were required to act within a very strict framework. A plan agreed pre-pandemic was not going to work in the post-pandemic time. We’ve negotiated the position that allows for a non-charging zone.

"The red line is, we will not accept a charging clean-air zone in Greater Manchester. And if that is what the Government wants, it will have to impose it.”

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The original plan for the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone would have seen non-compliant buses and lorries charged £60 a day to use the region’s roads, while vans and minibuses would have been charged £10 a day and taxi drivers hit with a £7.50 a day charge.

Failure to pay the charge would lead to a fine of £120, reduced to £60 for prompt payment. Private car drivers would not be affected by the Category C zone.

Burnham said this model, which had been mandated by the government, is no longer acceptable given the economic strains created by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. He said the city-region will instead  launch a non-charging zone, along with incentives to encourage drivers of older and more polluting vehicles to switch to cleaner models.

Greater Manchester had secured £120m of funding to help operators switch to compliant vehicles or have existing vehicles modified to cut their emissions levels and  Burnham said this approach could mean charging drivers and businesses wasn’t necessary.

He said: "We want a non-charging, Category B, Clean Air Zone. Help the owners of those vehicles to change those vehicles, don’t hit them with charges. Just put the investment in, the incentives to change so that we can clean up the air without threatening jobs or businesses.

"That can be a grant, it can be a loan, it can be help to retrofit that vehicle, so it doesn’t mean you have to buy a new vehicle. It’s a range of options and it’s about supporting the owners of those vehicles to get the option that’s right for them."

Councillor Andrew Western, lead for clean air in the region, added that the proposals, which would still use the scheme’s cameras to identify non-compliant vehicles, could require further government funding.