Several cities in the UK have delayed plans to charge polluting cars in their city centres (Picture: AFP, Getty, Rex)

Plans to create low-emission zones to tackle major pollution hotspots in the UK have been postponed because of the coronavirus crisis.

This week Manchester joined Leeds, Birmingham and Bath in delaying the introduction of a clean air zone (CAZ) which would charge most commercial vehicles for entry if they do not meet emissions standards.

One of the councils in the zone, which would have been the UK’s largest, said it would be delayed by a year until 2022 because of the difficulty in finishing the project while upholding social distancing rules.

Leeds, Birmingham and Bath have delayed their clean air zones from this year until 2021 at the earliest, while a low-emissions zone in Oxford is being put off until next summer.

Transport for London (TfL) has suspended London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) until further notice to help key workers getting to their jobs.

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Clean air zones require local businesses to take part in consultations guiding logistical planning, although no local authorities have explained why these cannot be carried out within social distancing guidelines.

The leader of Trafford Council said the delay was not expected to stop Greater Manchester bringing itself in line with legal air pollution limits.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has been accused of falling behind planning deadlines, with critics suggesting the proposals would not have been ready for public consultation even if it weren’t for the pandemic.

Nitrogen dioxide levels in Manchester have fallen by 30 per cent amid the lockdown (Picture: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Katie Nield, a lawyer with environmental charity ClientEarth, told The Oldham Times on Friday: ‘Greater Manchester is so far behind in its plan-making that it still hasn’t even published its detailed final proposals, let alone asked for public comment on them.

‘We are extremely concerned and quite frankly alarmed at Greater Manchester’s lax approach to protecting people’s health from the harmful impacts of air pollution.’

The pandemic has seen nitrogen dioxide levels the air in London and Manchester fall by around a third, while figures suggest the number of vehicles on UK roads has fallen by anywhere from a half to around 70 per cent.

Calling for extra funding for local authorities planning clen air zones, Mayor Andy Burnham said: ‘We can’t go back to how we were – no one wants to see the levels of air pollution and congestion we were experiencing.

‘We must seize the opportunities offered by this difficult situation to support our businesses through recovery and into a greener future.’

Bristol plans to ban all private diesel vehicles from its city centre in daytime from 2021, and this week said it planned to completely pedestrianise a section of the Old City area after lockdown.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government supported cities in delaying their clean air zones in order to focus on Covid-19.

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