A JOINT letter has been sent by business leaders in Greater Manchester urging Mayor Andy Burnham to pause plans for a clean air zone.

The likes of the Federation for Small Businesses, CBI and chambers of commerce have contacted his office to ask Mr Burnham to think again about the controversial eco-scheme.

They insist GM companies, many crippled by the effects of the pandemic, and with looming Brexit uncertainty, should not be burdened with a new 'business tax'.

In the letter the parties say: "We fully recognise the impact that poor air quality has on people. Poor air quality needs addressing, we agree with that, as do our members. But many are uneasy that this is not the right time to be moving forward with this in its proposed structure and format."

Business leaders have called on the combined authority to increase the £150m currently being offered to retrofit fleets and vehicles to comply with the new clean air zone criteria. They also want any daily charging regime to be postponed until at least 2024 so companies have more time to bounce back following the Covid-19 crisis.

And they have called for more data to be published, showing what impact reduced car usage has had on the environment during lockdowns this year.

The letter adds: "We believe to cover the scale of investment needed to improve sufficient numbers of vehicles and give greater assistance to businesses a larger support fund is needed and this should be in place before daily charges start..The proposed timing of the introduction of the scheme coincides with a period of huge uncertainty over government finances, possible increase in taxation and restrictions on public spend.

A spokesman for the combined authority, under the banner of CleanAirGM, said: “Government has instructed us to introduce a Greater Manchester-wide Clean Air Zone, and to hold a statutory consultation on the current proposals at this stage.

“We recognise the absolute importance of understanding what impacts the pandemic has had on our air quality and businesses, and ensuring any impacts are reflected in the final plans and our ongoing discussions with government.

"That is why we have asked for business feedback on this crucial issue during the consultation, encouraging as wide a range of views as possible.  

“It’s a very uncertain time for a lot of people, and getting the right level of funding to support local businesses and organisations before the Clean Air Zone is introduced is key.

“Following the conclusion of the consultation, the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities will now be carefully considering all of the responses received during the consultation period, which will help to shape the final Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan.”