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UK government will face court hearing over toxic pollution

A judge has ordered a High Court hearing in ClientEarth’s latest case against the UK Government over illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in the country.

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, Mr Justice Nicklin has expedited the case and it will be heard in the High Court before 23rd February next year.

This will be the third such case against the government. After ClientEarth’s victories in the previous two, the Court ordered ministers to produce new plans to bring air pollution to within legal levels as soon as possible.

This third case challenges elements of the court-ordered plan produced by ministers after ClientEarth’s second case in 2016.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “We’re not surprised that the judge has ruled that the government has a case to answer here. The current plans are too weak and too vague and mean that we will still be choking on illegal levels of pollution for years to come.

“The government’s persistent failure to deal with air pollution in this country is nothing short of a scandal.”

The grounds in ClientEarth’s case are:

  1. The latest plan backtracks on previous commitments to order 5 cities to introduce clean air zones by 2020;
  2. The plan does not require any action in 45 local authorities in England, despite them having illegal levels of air pollution.
  3. The plan does not require any action by Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible.

ClientEarth is seeking a court order which will force the government to take additional actions to rectify the flaws in the current air quality plan, with a clear timetable for consultation and implementation of those measures and estimates of their effect on air quality. The current plan would remain in force to avoid any delay in its implementation.

ClientEarth understands that Leicester City Council and Oxford City Council have written to the government raising doubts about the plans. These include claims that the government has seriously underestimated pollution levels in their cities and excluded them from access to essential support to fight the problem.

Thornton added: “The government has identified at least 80 local authorities with illegal and harmful levels of air pollution but more than half of them are not being required to take action.

“We have made progress with the government, which before we started our legal case was doing nothing, but air pollution has a serious effect on people’s health, the environment and the economy and more must be done.

“The solutions to this problem are obvious. We need a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted towns and cities alongside action to help people switch to cleaner transport. The government must finally show leadership and commit to taking action.”

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Joshua Fuller

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