The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has hit back at Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister labelled plans for a clean air charging scheme “badly thought out” and “wrong”.
A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) was set to come into effect in Greater Manchester at the end of May, which would have introduced daily charges for high-emission vehicles ranging from £7.50 for taxis to £60 for HGVs, buses and coaches (private cars would have been exempt from the new scheme).
However, the scheme was put on hold earlier this month after a backlash from businesses over the cost of making vehicles compliant. Politicians in Greater Manchester are currently working with the government to design a “substantially different” system, which it is hoped will come into force by July.
Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Conservative councillor for Bury North, James Daly, asked Johnson if he agreed that Burnham’s plan “to impose a 493 square mile clean air charging zone” in Greater Manchester was “an attack on jobs and opportunity… based on flawed data and should be scrapped”.
The Prime Minister – who abolished the western extension of the London Congestion Charging zone in 2010 – responded: “Yes, and as somebody who once had to deal with a badly thought-out low emission zone, it is totally wrong to impose measures thoughtlessly that damage business and do not do very much to protect clean air.
“The Mayor of Greater Manchester has done the wrong thing, and I am glad we are delaying it.”
In a statement released after PMQs, Burnham criticised the government’s lack of clarity concerning the future of clean air schemes in the UK.
“The Prime Minister has got to stop playing dishonest politics with the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone,” he said.
“Only three weeks ago, his Government imposed a new legal direction on our councils mandating action. Yet today he pretends in Parliament that those letters were never sent.
“We will not put up with this any longer. We can’t have Ministers saying things to us in private which are then flatly contradicted by the Prime Minister at the Despatch Box.
“Are the Government requiring Greater Manchester to have a Clean Air Zone or not? They must give a straight answer to that question and they must do it today.”
In July last year, to mark the release of the government’s 'Gear Change One Year on' report, Johnson praised the success of active travel schemes in reducing the number of cars and increasing the number of cyclists on the road.
The Conservative leader also condemned critics of low traffic neighbourhoods who predicted that they would harm local businesses.
Alongside the proposed Clean Air Zone, in 2018 Greater Manchester Mayor Burnham also pledged to invest £160m in cycling and walking infrastructure, with the aim of “kick-starting a major transformation of how people of all ages travel”.
The Labour politician came in for some criticism from cycling circles in January after he called for changes to the Highway Code to be paused, while repeating a common misconception over one key rule aimed at making roads safer for people on bikes, by referring to people riding “in the middle of the road.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.