Image shows Liverpool cityscape

New pollution plan reveals toxic air in England worse than feared

A new government air pollution plan, which was ordered by the High Court earlier this year, has revealed air pollution to be much worse than previously feared.

ClientEarth, which brought the successful legal case against the government said the shocking revelation showed how the ministers’ plan to pass the buck to local authorities had failed.

The new plan, which must show how the government will address illegal levels of air pollution in 33 local authority areas in England, revealed that eight of them have far worse levels of illegal air pollution than government figures previously suggested.

The local authorities are Portsmouth City Council, Liverpool City Council, Leicester City Council, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Bolsover District Council, Broxbourne Borough Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

These councils had carried out more detailed pollution studies to feed into the court-ordered plan.

This evidence now shows that in some areas people could have to wait until 2028 for legal levels of pollution, unless urgent action is taken to tackle the problem. This was the date London was forecast to comply if no further action were taken.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Katie Nield said: “Today’s pitiful plan shows that the government’s strategy to tackle air pollution by passing the buck to local authorities is in tatters. It’s essential that the government takes action on a national scale.

“Amazingly, ministers have now ordered more plans, which means more delays. It shows a shocking lack of leadership on a key public health issue.

She added: “It’s absolutely staggering that only now, eight years after legal limits came into force, the true extent of the problem is being uncovered for large areas of the country.  In the meantime, people in these areas have continued to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.”

The eight local authorities have been given until the end of October 2019 to submit final plans to the government.

The problem could be even worse – 12 local authorities were not required to take any action to tackle air pollution after ClientEarth’s latest court victory because they were projected to have legal levels of air pollution by the end of 2018. Given that local assessments in other areas have shown the problem to be worse than the government thought, it is possible these local authority areas may also have a hidden problem with toxic air.

Legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) came into force in 2010. NO2 is a harmful gas that in urban areas with illegal levels comes mostly from diesel vehicles. ClientEarth has won three legal cases against the UK Government for failing to tackle the problem.

ClientEarth is calling for a national network of clean air zones, help and support for people and businesses to move to cleaner forms of transport, such as a targeted scrappage scheme and new clean air laws to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Local authorities with worse air pollution than previously thought

Local Authority Previous predicted compliance New predicted compliance (without further action)
Bolsover District Council 2020 2023
City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council 2021 2027
Broxbourne Borough Council 2019 2028
Leicester City Council 2020 2022
Liverpool City Council 2020 2026
Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council 2020 2026
Portsmouth City Council 2020 2023
Stoke-on-Trent City Council 2021 2022
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Conor Samuel