Low Emission Zones (LEZ) are becoming more commonplace in densely populated British cities as the government strives to reach its climate targets. London, for example, has had an emissions-controlled area for the past 15 years which only allows the cleanest vehicles to pass into its borders free of charge. Similar schemes are enforced in Bath and Oxford – and Manchester’s local government was openly discussing a charged LEZ model right up until the middle of last year.
LEZs and Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZs) impose a daily charge on motorists as an incentive to discourage them from driving into certain areas. The scheme also works to persuade them to trade in their older, polluting vehicles for newer, eco-friendly ones that are exempt from the fee. The payments soon add up, too – an average London driver could end up spending £3,000 each year on the ULEZ charge alone.
If you’re trapped in a LEZ and sick of paying the charge, find out how much you could get for your current car using the Parkers car valuation tool. You can then use that cash to buy an affordable used car that won’t be charged, such as a petrol-powered Mk8 Volkswagen Golf or Mk7 Ford Fiesta.
Thankfully, not every city has a Low Emission Zone – and local councils now seem to be deploying them more cautiously following widespread resistance from residents. The recent London ULEZ expansion has been fiercely opposed by locals and Cambridge also planned to launch a congestion charge zone but scrapped it in September 2023 for fear of impacting low-income families.
Greater Manchester, which has the second-highest urban population in the UK, was also scheduled to roll out a category C charged Clean Air Zone, but the government ditched the initiative in May 2022. The reasoning was the same as in Cambridge – it was deemed too much of a financial burden for struggling families living in the aftermath of the pandemic and the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.
So, what’s the plan for the Manchester ULEZ now?
The UK government has mandated that Manchester should lower its emissions – and the city’s officials are now working on an alternative to charged LEZs. A collection of local authorities and Transport for Greater Manchester have sketched out a new initiative called Clean Air Greater Manchester. Instead of financially burdening the city’s residents, it’s proposing pushing the onus onto the government.
The plan suggests diverting £120 million of clean air funding from the government into modernising Manchester’s most heavily polluting vehicles, such as buses and HGVs. The idea is to retrofit such vehicles with cleaner powertrains that emit fewer pollutants.
But there’s a catch. The government placed its bus retrofit programme under review in April 2023 amidst growing concerns the upgrades weren’t making enough of a difference to urban air quality. The review is expected to conclude in the Autumn of 2023 – and, until the government can prove the programme is working, it has halted all funding for its retrofit programmes.
What’s next, then?
Well, Manchester needs to sort out its pollution problems quickly. The government has set 2026 as the deadline for the city to reduce its NO2 emissions – and, despite the intense pressure from above, Greater Manchester Council is confident it can achieve its targets without imposing a daily charge on motorists.
A spokeswoman for Clean Air Greater Manchester said:
“Delivery of the transformational Bee Network and investment in zero-emission buses will contribute to a significant improvement in air quality, tackling not just nitrogen dioxide but other pollutants too. It will also support Greater Manchester’s ambitions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2038.”
She also said local leaders “remain committed to an investment-led, non-charging GM Clean Air Plan” and that “work is continuing to ensure that we deliver compliance with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as soon as possible.”
Remember, though – Greater Manchester hasn’t committed to not launching a charged Clean Air Zone within its borders. It has only paused the plan to offer its residents respite during the current financial crisis. The original ULEZ plans are sitting on a table somewhere in the City Council office and there’s a chance they could be resurrected once the recession subsides.
Only time will tell. Who knows? – now that Rishi Sunak has rowed back on the UK’s climate commitments, Manchester might just get away without a charged LEZ until the end of the decade.