The Welsh Government has made a last-ditch plea to the High Court for more time to produce an air pollution plan, despite being warned by lawyers in the Spring that it risked missing the deadline.
In January this year, ClientEarth took the Welsh and UK Governments to court for failing to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide across the country.
On the first morning of the hearing, the Welsh ministers admitted that they had failed to draw up a compliant air pollution plan.
Rather than have their actions examined by the judge, they gave a formal promise to the Court to produce a plan by 31 July that would bring air pollution in Wales to within legal levels in the shortest possible time.
At the beginning of May, ClientEarth wrote to the Welsh ministers to warn them that the timetable proposed in their consultation draft suggested that they were not going to be able to meet the 31 July deadline.
ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “Not only is it astonishing that ministers have left it this late to apply for an extension, when we’d warned them of the issue in the Spring, it’s incredible that we even had to warn them in the first place. It doesn’t inspire confidence.”
After admitting that a misunderstanding of the relevant legal requirements by Welsh Government officials had resulted in the ministers committing to a deadline they could not in fact comply with, the government has had to go back to the court to ask for more time.
Despite ClientEarth’s warning, ministers waited until just over a week before their final plan was due to formally ask the court for an extension until the end of November.
The government’s urgent application for an extension was granted by the High Court yesterday.
Nield added: “We’re very concerned that the Welsh Government is still clearly struggling to comply with its legal obligations and get a grip of the air pollution crisis in Wales, eight years after legal limits should have been met.
“Their inability to comply with the original court deadline is the latest in a long line of failures. Pushing back the timetable for production of an air pollution plan will lead to further delays to action being taken to protect the health of people in Wales.
“The Welsh Government needs to recognise the seriousness of the situation and act as quickly as it can to identify measures to tackle pollution, rather than reneging on its promises to the court.”
Welsh Ministers now have until 30 November to produce a final air pollution plan.