UK Government back in court to face third air pollution challenge from ClientEarth

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have brought a new case against the UK government to challenge its continued failure to protect people’s health against the harmful effects of air pollution.

The High Court will hear arguments from both parties on Thursday 25 January.

This is the third legal case ClientEarth has brought against the UK Government for failing to comply with air pollution laws. The government lost both previous cases.

Despite previous rulings, the Government’s plans still do not include measures which would bring the UK into compliance with air pollution laws “as soon as possible”, compelling ClientEarth to bring a further judicial review.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “The government’s latest plan is flawed. Even now, eight years after the original deadline for compliance, 37 out of 43 zones across the UK remain in breach of legal air pollution limits.

The latest plan fails to provide for any measures to clean up air pollution in 45 Local Authority areas in England that have illegal levels of pollution. It also backtracks on a previous commitment to mandate charging Clean Air Zones in five towns and cities outside of London: Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton.

“These zones would discourage the most polluting vehicles from entering the most polluted areas, something which the government’s own evidence showed was the most effective way of bringing down air pollution in the shortest time.”

Wales has also failed to produce a plan, despite the 2016 High Court order. ClientEarth has also named the Welsh Ministers as a defendant in this case.

Health crisis

Air pollution triggers heart attacks and strokes and exacerbates respiratory conditions including asthma. It causes cancer and is linked with stunted lung growth in children. A study by the Royal College of Physicians estimated that it was linked to 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK.

Older people and children are among the most vulnerable.

Thornton added: “Action on air pollution cannot wait and cannot be fudged. We will continue to hold the government to account until it meets its legal obligations and its duty to protect UK children’s health.”

There is also a substantial economic cost. The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimate the cost of air pollution to the UK to be more than £20bn a year.

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