Damian CarringtonEnvironment editor
Wednesday 31 May 2017 12.24 BST
Environmental lawyers are taking the government to the high court for a third time in a bid to remove “major flaws” from minister’s plans to tackle the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution.
ClientEarth has inflicted two humiliating defeats on the government over previous plans, which were ruled not to meet legal requirements. Lawyers from ClientEarth had requested improvements to the latest plan from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) but were refused, prompting the new court action.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), emitted mostly by diesel vehicles, have been above legal limits in almost 90% of urban areas in the UK since 2010. The toxic fumes are estimated to cause 23,500 early deaths a year and the problem was declared a public health emergency by a cross-party committee of MPs in April 2016.
“We have been looking at the fine detail of the draft air quality plans published by the government,” said James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth. “We have found some major flaws. The law requires the final plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the shortest time possible. These flaws seriously jeopardise that timetable. These are plans for more plans, what we need are plans for action.”
The government’s latest proposals were published on 5 May and were widely condemned, with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, calling them “woefully inadequate”.
ClientEarth’s lawyers argue that technical documents published show that the most effective way to reduce toxic air is by discouraging polluting vehicles from entering cities and towns. However, the consultation published by the government states that charging zones should only be the option of last resort, after all other measures such as removing speed bumps and encouraging cycling have been tried.