Mrs Justice Lang agreed to environmental law group ClientEarth’s request to fast-track the case, which challenges the government’s inadequate plans to clean up the UK’s illegal air pollution, and requests new ones with actions that will bring air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible.
The deficient plans were the government’s response to the Supreme Court’s order in April 2015 which ordered the Government to take “immediate action”. The case centres on illegal levels (under EU law) of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) a harmful gas emitted mainly by diesel vehicles.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “This is good news for everyone who wants to breathe clean air. The government has been dragging its feet, doing the bare minimum and hoping that air pollution levels drop over time. Unless the Government is forced to act, air pollution will go on making people sick and causing tens of thousands of early deaths every year in this country.
“The government has a legal and moral duty to tackle illegal air pollution, for the sake of people who are breathing in toxic fumes day in-day out, as they simply go about their lives.
“This is a reminder of how EU law protects British people from dangerous air pollution.”
A five year battle for clean air
In April 2015, ClientEarth won its five-year legal battle with the government over illegal levels of air pollution in the UK, when the country’s Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come up with plans that would bring air pollution in the UK within legal levels as soon as possible.
The government’s plans, produced in December 2015, still didn’t envisage compliance with legal limits until 2025 in the worst affected areas.
In response to the plans, ClientEarth brought a fresh legal challenge and has now been granted an expedited hearing date for the case in the High Court.
Under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, all EU member states have been bound by limits on air pollution since 2010. The UK has failed to meet limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 38 of the 43 “zones”. One of the key sources of NO2 is diesel vehicles.