Monday, 10 July 2023

Manchester's Clean Air Zone Delays as 1,000 Buses Made Green Might Not Comply

Greater Manchester's plans for a clean air zone will be delayed again after it emerged claims about reduced bus emissions may not be accurate.

About 1,150 of the region's 2,063 buses were modified at a cost of £15m to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide.

However the government has paused the rollout after some retrofitted buses were not cutting emissions as expected.

Local officials said they still hoped to comply with legal limits on nitrogen dioxide by 2026.

Currently in operation in cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield, clean air zones (CAZ) aim to cut pollution and encourage use of less-polluting vehicles.

Stagecoach introduced a fleet of hybrid Enviro400's into Manchester in 2020.

The proposal for the Greater Manchester CAZ has been on hold since February 2022 after a backlash to potential charges for users of certain vehicles.

Transport for Greater Manchester has previously said its buses would lead to a zero-emission fleet by 2032.

Local officials had been due to provide the government with updated data about expected reductions in air pollution this month but that will now be delayed due to the paused rollout.

A spokeswoman for Clean Air Greater Manchester said the buses' introduction would still contribute to "a significant improvement in air quality, tackling not just nitrogen dioxide but other pollutants too".

She 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 and by 2026 at the latest".

The government has launched a review of the retrofit technology, which is set to conclude this autumn.

A government spokeswoman said they would "work closely with local councils to help them improve air quality, including with using technology to help improve bus emissions".

"We have paused the rollout of bus retrofit technology and are conducting further research to understand the technology and to work out how best it could be improved."

This all comes at a time when Greater Manchester are poised to take over the running of the buses, by awarding contracts to bus companies who will run the services on behalf of the council. 

The council will take the financial risks away from the bus companies and will depend on significant government support to balance the books. There is a risk to council tax payers that if the passengers numbers and fare receipts don't hold up any shortfall will need to come from increased council tax.

Large numbers of new electric buses specified by the council are on order and are just being introduced in an effort to reduce emissions.