Government Ministers ignoring ruling on air pollution

Government ministers are ignoring a Supreme Court ruling to take immediate action to cut air pollution in the UK, new research has revealed.

In April the UK Supreme Court made a historic ruling ordering the Government to cut air pollution levels causing 29,000 early deaths a year.

But information requests from ClientEarth showed major decisions since the General Election have been made without any reference to the court judgement.

Yesterday (Saturday), Defra released its plans to bring air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible. ClientEarth is analysing these plans to see whether they are good enough to stop tens of thousands of people dying every year in the UK.

Other government departments, however, have admitted making no assessment of the effect of some major policy decisions on air pollution.

The Department for Transport said they had made no assessment of the impact on air quality before announcing the “pause” of the electrification of two major rail routes. It means diesel trains will continue to run on routes in and out of major cities like Leeds and Manchester.

DECC also said it had “not carried out any assessment on the impact on air quality” before its decision to cease to fund the Green Deal Finance Company, which helped home owners to make their homes more energy efficient.

Alan Andrews, Clean Air Lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “This reveals a worrying disregard for the decision of the Supreme Court and a shocking lack of joined-up thinking in government.

“At least 29,000 early deaths result each year from air pollution in the UK. Every government department has a responsibility to protect human health by complying with air quality limits.

“These announcements could make it harder to achieve those limits, but the departments haven’t given any consideration to the impacts on air quality.”

ClientEarth is still waiting for a full answer from the Treasury on whether air pollution was considered in the changes to vehicle excise duty announced by the Chancellor in his post-election budget.

ClientEarth won a judgment against the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to tackle the country’s illegal levels of air pollution. The court said that “The new Government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue”.

It ordered the Secretary of State to prepare new air quality plans which would bring air quality within legal limits in the shortest time possible. ClientEarth is currently analysing those plans and will not hesitate to take the government back to court if they are not good enough.


This post was updated on12 January 2017 to better reflect research into the health impacts of air pollution. Air pollution and your health – what are the facts?

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David Holt