View of smog from Primrose Hill, London

High Court judgment on air pollution a “shot across the bows” of government

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have said today that a High Court judgment on air pollution is a “shot across the bows of the government”.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said it was a clear signal to ministers that they must improve on their draft plans to reduce air pollution as soon as possible.

ClientEarth had brought the case to challenge the government’s draft air quality plans released on 5 May.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Garnham said that there was nothing unlawful about the government’s draft plans but suggested that final plans could well be open to legal challenge if they do not deal with some of the concerns laid out by ClientEarth.

It was also revealed in court that the government has rejected the concerns of more than 11,000 people who responded to its draft air quality plans, claiming it only received 747 responses.

ClientEarth and other groups helped more than 11,000 people fill in a consultation on the plans through an online form. In its submissions to the High Court the government revealed that it would not count those as consultation responses.

The government’s own technical analysis shows that charging drivers of certain vehicles to enter polluted areas of towns and cities (so–called charging Clean Air Zones) is the most effective way to bring down air pollution as soon as possible.

The court made it clear that any alternative measures would have to be equally or more effective than a charging CAZ in meeting the air quality limits and reducing people’s exposure to pollution.

Thornton said: “We are shocked that, on an issue which blights the lives of thousands across the country, the government is refusing to listen to the views of the people by ignoring 11,000 responses to their consultation.

“We hope that their final plan reflects the concerns of everyone affected by this public health crisis.

“We look forward to the final plan on 31 July. In our view, the judge made it very clear that the Government must meet very specific criteria in order to avoid any future legal challenge.

“We feel this was a clear shot across the government’s bows.”

The government’s final plans to reduce air pollution in the UK are due on 31 July.

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