Call to remove Wigan from Greater Manchester's Clean Air Zone is rejected
Wigan’s involvement in the Clean Air Zone has been criticised by a councillor who believed the plans were not necessary for the borough as the air was clean enough.
Coun James Watson put forward a motion at a full council meeting held at Wigan Town Hall to withdraw the borough from the plans entirely.
The controversial scheme, which was due to start in May, is currently under review after the Government agreed to delay the deadline by which Greater Manchester must lower air pollution below legal limits by two years to 2026.
Transport for Greater Manchester, which has been working on the plans on behalf of the 10 councils, has promised a public consultation will take place.
Putting forward his motion, Coun Watson, an Independent Network councillor in Atherton, said: “With the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone being under further consultation as a result of the negative backlash from our residents, it is clear that our residents do not support this audacious scheme, thus, the time is right for Wigan borough to withdraw from the GM CAZ.
“Therefore, I request that a democratic vote should be held to withdraw Wigan borough from the GM CAZ.”
He explained to the chamber that he had been doing his research on the matter and that Wigan’s air pollution was not at a level that was deemed unsafe and therefore should not be included in this plan.
“Why are we taxing our own residents, taxing our smaller businesses the same as those in the city when there is a cost of living crisis?” he asked. “How are our residents going to cope with this?”
There was also question over why the charge came about in the first place, and the Tories and the Independent Network wanted to know why the whole scheme was not brought to full council for debate and just put through cabinet.
“We have asked the Government to review the charge,” council leader David Molyneux responded. “Forty thousand people in this country die every year because of contaminated air.
“That is a good reason for me [to have the CAZ]. I think of the families in this borough who have children with asthma because of the air pollution.
“I am not embarrassed one bit that we are part of CAZ.”
Leader of the Conservative group Coun Michael Winstanley claimed the only reason Labour leaders across Greater Manchester and Andy Burnham are now keen to do the consultation was because of the public outcry that came following the news of the CAZ plan.
“You have been rumbled and you are not going to get away with it,” he said.
Labour councillors Fred Walker and Mark Aldred said that scrapping the plan was not the solution, because solving the problem of vehicles pumping out toxic gases is a public health issue that is not going to go away.
They both made the point that public health matters cannot be solved after the fact, citing the health problems for coal miners across Wigan.
Before the vote, Coun Stuart Gerrard stated that Wigan businesses using vehicles that come under the charge should not be penalised the same as those in the cities where the problem with pollution is greater.
The motion was refused by the majority of councillors.