Government faces new challenge to air quality plan

The government's air quality action plan faces a further court challenge after an environmental charity said ministers' approach still falls short of what is needed to bring air pollution within legal limits.

Air pollution: government faces fresh legal challenge
Air pollution: government faces fresh legal challenge

ClientEarth is challenging the action plan published in July by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This set out the steps the government is asking local authorities to take to meet legally binding limits on nitrogen dioxide emissions.

The group cites three grounds in its latest claim, which is directed against DEFRA, the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government. First, it says, the latest plan backtracks on previous commitments to order five cities to introduce clean air zones by 2020.

Second, it says, the plan requires no action in 45 local authorities in England despite them having illegal levels of air pollution. Thirdly, it complains that the plan does not require any action in Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible.

ClientEarth chief executive officer James Thornton said: "The UK government’s stubborn failure to tackle illegal and harmful levels of pollution in this country means we have no choice but to take legal action. We need clarity from the government and for that we’ve been forced to go back to court."

He added: "The government’s own evidence shows that we need a national network of charging clean air zones, which will keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted areas of our towns and cities, so why aren’t drivers being prepared for it?"

ClientEarth has previously launched legal proceedings twice over what it describes as the government’s "persistent failure" to deal with illegal air pollution.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the government to produce new air quality plans showing how it would bring air pollution down to legal levels as soon as possible. Last November, the High Court declared the resulting plans legally flawed, forcing DEFRA to rethink its provisions.

The group’s latest claim was lodged on the day ministers put back a decision on plans for the Silvertown Tunnel in east London until May 2018  "to enable further consideration of the effect of the scheme on air quality".

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