Lawyers are taking a class action against the government over its repeated failures to clean up illegal levels of air pollution, the Guardian can reveal, as ministers publish a long-awaited plan to reduce diesel emissions.
The unprecedented legal challenge on behalf of asthma sufferers could see ministers paying out significant compensation for allowing the nation’s air to exceed legal limits for so long.
The government is expected to publish its new air quality plan at midday on Friday after key local election results have been announced, with a targeted diesel scrappage scheme to cut down on harmful nitrogen dioxide.
The strategy will outline ways that central government can support local councils to draw up their own plans, with some expected to be asked to consider charging for the use of polluting vehicles.
However, sources said there was no need for all local authorities to use charging and insisted there would be a focus on avoiding anything that might “punish” motorists.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide, primarily from diesel traffic, have been at illegal levels in almost 90% of urban areas in the UK since 2010. The government has had a string of humiliating defeats in the courts over its failure to clean up the nation’s air – the latest of which was last week when a high court judge said the continued delays were “a significant threat to public health”. He ordered the publication of the new air quality plan by Tuesday.