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New UK air pollution figures reveal shocking lack of progress

New official air pollution figures reveal the government failed to make any progress in bringing down the number of illegally polluted regions across the UK in the 18 months after a court ordered ministers to do so.

The new statistics, which were submitted by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the EU Commission, show that at the end of 2016, the UK still had the same number of zones with illegal air pollution as 2015, despite being under a Supreme Court order at the time to bring it down as soon as possible. In total, 37 out of 43 zones are in breach of pollution limits.

Shockingly, some areas have actually seen air pollution rise over the past four years. This is the case for Bristol, Portsmouth and Teeside for example.

The figures, which are the latest available from the government, will make grim reading for ministers, who were ordered to produce a plan to bring down air pollution for a second time by the High Court in November of last year.

In July, the government produced its second court ordered plan, which ClientEarth believes is not strong enough to bring down air pollution as soon as possible.

Last month, ClientEarth launched its ‘Poisoned Playgrounds’ campaign which shows that more than 950 schools across Britain are within 150 metres of an illegally polluted road. The campaign is based on the same data which the government used to produce the 2017 Air Quality Plan.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “These are statistics the government would rather you didn’t see. They show how ministers are failing to protect people from air pollution which is blighting the lives of thousands of people across the country.

“We’re deeply saddened to see how little progress was made last year and we will keep up the pressure to tackle this public health crisis, so that all of us – particularly young children – are protected from harmful pollution.”

The pollutant in question is nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which in towns and cities, where it is at illegal levels, comes mostly from diesel vehicles.

Air pollution has been linked to premature births and can stunt the lung growth of children. Pollution spikes can trigger strokes and heart attacks and can increase the risk that asthma attacks result in hospitalisation or death.

Thornton added: “We need a national network of clean air zones to clean up the air as quickly as possible. Thousands of people bought diesel vehicles in good faith and have been sorely let down by car makers and the government. They should take responsibility and help people move to cleaner forms of transport.”

In a recent survey for ClientEarth by YouGov, the majority of people supported these clean air zones, with 53% saying they would be in favour of them.

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Shane Rounce

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