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Government denied clean air zones to dangerously polluted UK cities

Ten UK regions were denied a ‘clean air zone’ (CAZ) to bring down illegal levels of air pollution, despite civil servants initially slating 16 areas for such measures, it has emerged.

The revelations came during a hearing in the High Court last week as ClientEarth took further legal action against the government in an attempt to bring air pollution down from its current illegal levels in the UK. The court heard that measures to tackle pollution were pared down to the bare minimum because of Treasury objections on cost grounds.

ClientEarth won a ruling in the Supreme Court against the UK government in April 2015, ordering ministers to bring down air pollution as soon as possible. The plans were so poor that ClientEarth took the government back to the High Court.

How will Clean Air Zones tackle pollution?

Proposals made by Defra in May 2015 included a priority list of cities that needed drastic measures to cut pollution. However, almost half of these cities had dropped off the list altogether by the time the government released its plans in December.

Cities that lost out on a CAZ included Manchester, Hull and Cardiff, some of the most polluted areas in the country. South Wales is the fifth most polluted area in the UK, according to the government’s latest figures, with levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the region 70% higher than the legal limit.

NO2 is a noxious gas with health effects that cause health impacts equivalent to 23,500 early deaths a year in the UK, according to government research. In towns and cities, diesel vehicles are responsible for the majority of NO2 emissions.

CAZs are designed to stop the most polluting diesel vehicles from entering highly polluted areas.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “The government continues to bewilder us with its avoidance tactics. It was presented with a Supreme Court order a year and a half ago ordering it to get straight to work to protect the people of the UK from hazardous and illegal levels of air pollution.

“People in the vast majority of regions denied a clean air zone by our government might wonder why their health is deemed somehow less important than that of people in the six regions set to get one.

“Breathing clean air is a right. Politics has no part in it. The government must recognise this as a public health crisis and do everything in its power to address it.”

Which cities have been promised a Clean Air Zone under current plans?

Defra recommended CAZs be put in place in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton, Cardiff and Derby. These were definite target areas, based on the most optimistic modelling.

Areas also recommended for a CAZ were Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Stoke, Coventry, Hull and Sheffield.

In the final proposals, CAZs were proposed only for London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton and Derby.

This post was updated on 21 December 2016 to better reflect research into the health impacts of air pollution. Air pollution and your health – what are the facts?

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