Thursday 27 April 2017 19.06 BST
The government has been ordered to publish tough new plans to tackle air pollution after the high court rejected attempts by ministers to keep the policy under wraps until after the general election.
In the latest defeat for ministers over their continued failure to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis, which is believed to be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths a year,, Mr Justice Garnham said the secretary of state, Andrea Leadsom, was in breach of a court order to take action in the shortest possible time and that any further delays would constitute a further breach.
He said it was essential to publish draft plans to cut air pollution immediately to safeguard public health. The judge rejected a government application to appeal, saying that ministers would have to go to the appeal court if they wanted to seek permission to challenge his ruling.
The judgment came after ministers applied to court to keep their plans secret until after the general election, saying it was necessary to “comply with pre-election propriety rules”. The new measures are likely to include the imposition of multiple clean-air zones across the country, where drivers will face fines if their vehicles do not pass roadside emissions tests.
Garnham on Thursday ordered ministers to publish their draft plan within two weeks – on 9 May, after local elections on 4 May – and said the government must comply with his original order and release their final policy on tackling the air crisis by 31 July.
“These steps are necessary in order to safeguard public health,” said the judge. “The continued failure of the government to comply with directives and regulations constitutes a significant threat to public health.”
The judge said the government’s own figures showed that nitrogen dioxide pollution – primarily from diesel traffic – is linked to the premature deaths of 23,500 people a year in the UK. “That is more than 64 deaths each day,” Garnham said.