High court says approach to tackling pollution in 45 local authority areas is ‘not sufficient’ and orders urgent changes
Fiona HarveyFirst published on Wed 21 Feb 2018 13.29 GMT
For the third time, the UK government has been slammed by the courts for failing to produce an adequate plan to tackle the growing problem of air pollution, in a landmark judgment that will force ministers back to the drawing board in their efforts to clean up dirty urban air.
The high court ruled that the government’s current policy on air pollution was “unlawful”, and ordered changes. Air pollution has become a leading test case for environmental legal activism in the UK, as scientists have found as many as 40,000 people a year are dying from dirty air across the country.
As a result of Wednesday’s judgment, clean air in the UK will be overseen by the courts, rather than ministers, in a “wholly exceptional” ruling in which the government was roundly defeated.
Anna Heslop, lawyer with ClientEarth, the activist organisation that brought the case and which has pursued the government on the issue for several years, said: “The judge has effectively allowed us to bring this matter straight back to court without delay if the government continues to fall short of its duties. We are extremely grateful for this because it means we will be able to monitor the government’s actions even more effectively and hold them to account.”
Mr Justice Garnham, who heard the case, said: “The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved.” He noted a “real risk” from air pollution, said the government’s plans were “seriously flawed” and commended ClientEarth as a “valuable monitor of the government’s efforts”.
He said the approach to tackling pollution in 45 local authority areas was “not sufficient”. The court previously heard that, eight years after the UK was found to be in breach of legal limits on the pollutant, levels were still too high in 37 out of 43 zones across the country.