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Smog Alert: 3 Key Reasons Manchester Property Needs To Get Serious About Clean Air

Greater Manchester has an air pollution problem, and it is much more serious than anyone thought. Documents released last week show just how bad the issue has become.

Local council leaders will consider introducing a new Clean Air Zone plan in January in an effort to cut out the smog and dangerous fumes. It is going to mean masssive changes for property, but are Manchester landlords, occupiers and developers ready?

Data presented to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority shows that 152 stretches of road in the county will be in breach of legal limits for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide beyond 2020. This is considerably more than earlier figures generated by the government’s Pollution Climate Model.


The reasons for the surge in N02 pollution are hard to pin down, but the large number of delivery vehicles and their relatively old age compared to the national average has something to do with it. The "canyon effect" which traps pollution between tall buildings is also unhelpful.

Thanks to changes in the law the GMCA is now obliged to act, and obliged to chose the solutions which bring results fastest. According to a report to Greater Manchester council leaders this will mean drastic action to reduce traffic volumes, in some cases by as much as 30%.

Here are the three big take-aways for property.

1. Workplace Levy

Paragraph 9.10 contains what will be the main challenge for many in the property market. The menu of options being considered by the GMCA includes what is innocuously called "differential parking charges" but this de-codes as "different charges for times of day, vehicle type, carsharers and could include a workplace parking levy."

The history of workplace parking levies in the U.K. is limited, and it is not clear how successfully it would combat pollution. The Nottingham levy, launched in 2012, is the U.K.'s longest standing. The levy per space is £402 a year. In its six years it has contributed to a fall in the number of car movements, although the headline figure (40 million fewer journeys in 15 years) clearly has only a small relationship to the levy. In a small, compact city public transport has been able to take up the slack created by the workplace levy, which has in its turn provided a steady stream of income for public transport projects.

Cambridge is now looking at a workplace parking levy, and it will provide the next big test. But neither Nottingham nor Cambridge is on the scale of Greater Manchester, so the challenge is considerably more complex.

2. Roadworks

Traffic management measures can reduce the flow of traffic and therefore reduce pollution, but it is a deeply unsubtle approach in the same way that you can easily reduce your weight by cutting off an arm. Two potential solutions are being considered which fall into this drastic category and cynics will say they amount to plans to make the traffic jams worse in the hope that drivers stay away.

The anodyne official wording says GMCA is considering "encouraging alternative travel choices through road space reallocation". The plan adds that they might also change "traffic signal timing to optimise flows, reducing congestion" because columns of slow-moving vehicles will increase pollution rather than reduce it. But the outlook for drivers is clear: your journey will be more trouble.

The effect on business could be substantial.

3. Clean Air Zone

Greater Manchester voted against a congestion charge in a controversial referendum in 2008. Despite the defeat the plan never quite went away (Andy Burnham dismissed Transport for Greater Manchester proposals in 2017) and now it is back, albeit wearing a greener uniform. The GMCA paperwork is at pains to point out that Clean Air Zone charges are not the same as congestion charges, but in practise it may feel very much the same.

The key difference is that a Clean Air Zone charge does not affect domestic cars to the same extent, and the boundaries are more flexible with different classifications/time restriction and geographical areas likely to be included. The government is pressing councils to adopt Clean Air Zone charging which will apply in four different permutations (all of which exclude vehicles that meet the relevant emissions targets). The classes are:

  • Class A: Buses, coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Class B: Buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles, taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Class C: Buses, coaches, HGVs, large vans, minibuses, small vans/light commercials, taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Class D: Buses, coaches, HGVs, large vans, minibuses, small vans/light commercials, taxis and private hire, cars, motorcycles/mopeds.

The GMCA report says that unlike a congestion charge, which is meant to make money from drivers who decline to change their habits, a Clean Air Zone is meant to change habits and in the long-term will lose money. Both claims are arguable.

Once again, the effect on the property business is hard to assess, although certainly less disruptive than a simple congestion charge.