Smart Transport

What we can learn from Manchester’s Clean Air Zone

Ashley Barnett, Lex Autolease

Ashley Barnett, head of fleet consultancy at Lex Autolease discusses Manchester’s plans for its Clean Air Zone and how they’ve evolved to take a ‘carrot’ rather than ‘stick’ approach to improving the city’s air quality, as well as what other city-regions can learn from Manchester’s change of tact.

With the challenge of reducing carbon emissions on the UK’s roads a pressing issue, it’s important that proposed solutions are carefully measured and implemented to avoid negatively affecting the people who will use them every day.

Clean Air Zones are one solution we’ve seen work successfully in many cities, most notably in London. However, for them to work, they must be done with clarity and in collaboration with road users to ensure there is buy-in from the general public.

Take, for example, Greater Manchester, which has recently changed tack on its approach to its Clean Air Zone to better engage residents. Instead of punishing those who don’t comply with regulations, the city is focusing on encouraging road users to help the city meet air quality targets where they are able to.

Proposing penalties 

Initially, Manchester’s Clean Air Zone stood to charge vehicle owners whose motor vehicles did not meet set emissions from May 2022. Given the rising cost of living, combined with the rapidly increasing price of fuel, this would have placed significant burden on businesses and drivers at an already difficult time.

Instead, local authorities have now submitted a new Clean Air Zone scheme to achieve air quality compliance by 2026, which the government must agree to. The new scheme proposes financial incentives for motorists to switch to EVs, but no charges for those which fail to achieve air quality compliance. This will come as a huge relief to drivers currently facing financial pressures due to the rising cost of living.

These new proposals take a ‘carrot’ approach to improving the air quality in the city, rather than the ‘stick’ of Clean Air Zone charges to punish drivers whose vehicle does not meet emissions standards. For example, instead of charges, cameras are set to be used to identify non-compliant vehicles and signpost them to financial support. 

Meanwhile, the buses of Greater Manchester have been brought back under public control. Under these new plans, the cost of bus travel will be significantly lowered, which could act as an incentive to those who are unable to comply with the Clean Air Zone straight away. 

Transport for Greater Manchester, which has been working on the plans on behalf of the 10 councils in Greater Manchester, has also promised that a public consultation will take place. Councils are expected to run their own consultations to seek residents' views, meaning that there is more chance for the Manchester community to have an input on the Clean Air Zone. Getting buy-in in this way will be essential in ensuring that a viable plan to reduce Greater Manchester’s emissions can be enacted. 

So, what happens next and what can other city regions learn?

For other city-regions looking to implement their own clean air initiatives, Manchester has provided some important lessons in how to tackle the changes. Most importantly collaborating with the public is crucial. You’d struggle to find anyone who doesn’t agree that emission reductions are necessary, but they need to be implemented in a coherent way, with realistic timings and clear guidance, in order to be successful. 

Ashley Barnett is head of fleet consultancy at Lex Autolease, part of Lloyds Banking Group. 

He is a qualified accountant with more than 25 years’ business and finance experience, including 18 years in the vehicle leasing division of Lloyds Bank, and has extensive expertise in vehicle funding, company car policy and salary sacrifice schemes.


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