Updated: congestion charge back on agenda for Manchester following Government’s High Court defeat

pollution charge
Could a pollution charge be introduced for Manchester city centre?

Updated on May 5

By Simon Donohue

The Government’s consultation on Clean Air provides clearer details of the circumstances in which congestion charging could be introduced by local authorities.

Published in advance of the General election in response to legal action by clean air campaigners, it states that local authorities will be expected to seek a number of innovative solutions to reducing air pollution in areas with high levels of air pollution, and in particular diesel fuel emissions.

The DEFRA consultation document states: ”
Clean Air Zone proposals are not required to include a charging zone. The Government believes that charging zones should only be used where local authorities fail to identify equally effective alternatives. If local authorities do conclude that charging is the only way to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time, they will be required to set out the detail of where and when charges would apply, and the vehicle types to which they would apply. They will also be required to engage with local people and fully assess the impact of such an approach and how it could be mitigated. In all cases, charging zones would apply only to older, higher-polluting models of the vehicle types, so as to have a targeted impact on pollution. Any revenues collected by local authorities will be reinvested to support local transport policies, which could cover public health projects or better town and city planning, promoting cleaner air.

Other options include support for Ultra Low Emmission Vehicles and a diesel scrappage scheme.

Newly elected Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham made it a campaign pledge that congestion charging was not among his plans. However, charging could still be approved by central Government and implemented by individual local councils.

Manchester city council leader Sir Richard Leese insisted earlier in 2016 that rumours of a revival for congestion charging in Greater Manchester were unfounded.

However, he said that policy to “manage demand” for road journeys “has to come back on to the agenda nationally”.

A High Court ruling in favour of campaign group ClientEarth has forced the Government’s hand in taking more drastic action against air pollution in 16 cities, including Manchester.

The result is likely to be a congestion charge for drivers of “dirty” diesel vehicles using some Manchester roads.

The court ruling scales up publicly aired government plans for clean air zones in six UK cities by 2020. These did not include Manchester.

Despite what Sir Richard said earlier in 2016, a very well placed source had already insisted to me that discussions were underway that would lead to a radical rethink of the way all vehicles, and particularly “dirty” vehicles, access Manchester city centre.

Indeed, a TfGM consultation document outlining a vision for the future of transport in Greater Manchester went so far as suggesting a city centre ban for all but the cleanest vehicles.

One option flagged  was pollution charging for dirtier vehicles – including those with diesel engines producing high nitrogen oxide emissions – to enforce the transition.

That possibility certainly seemed to be on the political agenda, with Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese giving this interview to BBC North West Tonight in the wake of a congestion charging initiative in Stockholm.

Speaking at a Downtown In Business Manchester event (February 9, 2016) Sir Richard said he did not think that any politician in Greater Manchester would attempt to revive congestion charging.

But he hinted that intervention on the issue could be implemented nationally.

He said: “There is no plan to bring back congestion charging or a demand management system (in Greater Manchester) although demand management has to come back onto the agenda on a national basis.”

Transport for London already operates a Low Emission Zone where drivers of certain vehicles must pay to enter.

Proposals for a more densely developed and pedestrian-friendly city centre for Manchester are included in a Transport for Greater Manchester document outlining a vision for transport in the region up until 2040.

It was the subject of a 12-week public consultation exercise that has now concluded and will lead to the publication of a formal strategy document in 2016. Assuming it hasn’t yet been published, it will be an interesting read in light of ClientEarth’s victory.

The consultation document suggested that cycling and walking should be encouraged, car use limited and only low or zero emission vehicles allowed in the city centre.

An enlarged city centre is likely to include key development sites including Ancoats and Eastlands, where hundreds of new homes are already being constructed.

Stopping short of mentioning pollution charging, the TfGM document included references to the introduction of policies that would change commuter behavior in favour of environmentally friendly options.

The Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040: Our Vision document states:

“The regional centre (Manchester city centre and adjacent parts of Salford and Trafford) is the economic engine of the city-region, employing around 160,000 people, as well as being an important residential growth area.

“To prevent congestion from undermining economic growth, there will need to be a major shift from car use to public transport, cycling and walking.

“If we are successful in delivering our Vision, then by 2040:

“Increased high-capacity, high quality public transport and cycling provision on more radial routes into the centre will give more people access to jobs and reduce congestion on our road network to make journey times quicker and more reliable for commuters and business operators.

A larger and more densely developed city centre will be attractive and easy to walk and cycle around, with limited car use in the central area and all vehicles entering it being low or zero-emission. Poor air quality from traffic pollution will be a thing of the past.

“One integrated public transport system that allows customers to change seamlessly between trams, trains and buses, using one travel ticket that can also be used for car and cycle parking and hire. This will transform the experience for visitors , bringing the ‘human scale’ to an enlarged city.”
Referring to environmental concerns, it adds:

“Road transport is having a seriously detrimental impact on air quality in the conurbation. This is a significant cause of poor health, with emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (small particles) the main problem. Like other major UK cities, we need to cut NO2 emissions in Greater Manchester to meet EU limits.

“Cities are inherently more sustainable in terms of energy and resource use than less urbanised areas and, therefore, Greater Manchester is well placed to reduce its environmental footprint. But we must do more to reduce emissions from our transport system and to encourage more sustainable travel behaviour. 
“We must also adapt to climate change and become more resilient through careful planning and targeted infrastructure investment over the coming years.”

A bid to introduce congestion charging in Greater Manchester was beaten by a public referendum in 2008, with many people concerned that there was no alternative but to drive into the city centre. Significant transport infrastructure investment has been promised and partially delivered since, including an enhanced Metrolink service and the Leigh Guided Busway.

The Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040 document will be published in 2016, outlining more detailed information on “transport interventions, schemes and delivery plans” highlighted in the Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040: Our Vision consultation document.