High Court gives UK Government 8 months to draw up fresh air quality plan

The UK Government has been ordered by a High Court judge to draw up an improved plan by July next year which must bring air pollution within legal limits.

Setting out his order in court today, concluding ClientEarth’s case against the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Justice Garnham gave the government until 24 April 2017 to produce a draft plan and 31 July to deliver a final one.

The judge rejected the government’s suggested timetable which would have allowed it until September of next year to produce a final plan, saying it was “far too leisurely”.

In another important development, the judge obliged the government to publish the technical data on which it was basing its plans. The original judgment in the case ruled that Defra had used over-optimistic estimates of future emissions from diesel cars.

He also granted ClientEarth permission to go back to court if there were any further problems with the draft plan, which seeks to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as quickly as possible.

Speaking outside the court, James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, said: “It is very clear that the government must now act swiftly and decisively to protect British people from toxic and illegal air pollution.

“We are delighted with the ruling and the fact the judge did not agree with the government’s timetable for tackling this public health crisis.

“The government has said throughout this process that it takes air pollution seriously. Until now, its actions have not lived up to this claim. Now is the time for the government to prove that it truly cares about people’s health and the environment and take decisive action to tackle illegal air pollution in this country.”

The current air quality plan, which the High Court ordered was unlawful because it was based on faulty projections and would not bring air pollution down to within legal limits as soon as possible, will remain until the new plan is put in place.

This original plan proposed six clean air zones in London, Birmingham, Derby, Southampton, Nottingham, and Leeds. During the hearing today, the judge suggested the government might need to include Glasgow and the government’s lawyer, Ian Rogers QC, also mentioned South Wales.

Alan Andrews, ClientEarth’s air quality lawyer added: “A total of 37 out of 43 zones in the UK have illegal levels of air pollution. The government will now have to show it has the ambition necessary to tackle the problem. If they are at all serious about complying with the court order, a national network of clean air zones must be part of their plans, which means including the dirtiest diesel cars and creating far more than the current six which are planned. Otherwise, the risk is the problem will just be pushed elsewhere.

“We are confident that the government will see the urgency of today’s ruling and that we won’t have to return to court. But we will be watching on behalf of everyone living in the UK, and will return to court if the government is failing to adhere to the terms of this judgment.”

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Pierre André