According to the European Commission, the UK Supreme Court has already declared that air pollution limits are regularly exceeded in 16 zones across the UK.

EU legislation sets limits on air pollution and the NOx limits should have been achieved by January 1 2010 unless an extension was granted until January 1 2015.

Although the original deadline for meeting the limit values was January 1 2010, extensions have been agreed with Member States which had a “credible and workable plan for meeting air quality standards” within five years of the original deadline.

However, the UK has not presented any such plan for the zones in question.

The 16 zones affected are Greater London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, the Potteries, Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, the East, the South East, the East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire & Humberside, the West Midlands, and the North East.

The Court noted that air quality improvement plans estimate that for London compliance with EU standards will only be achieved by 2025, fifteen years after the original deadline, and in 2020 for the other 15 zones.

The Commission is claiming that the UK is in breach of its obligations under the Directive, and a letter of formal notice has been sent, of which the UK has two months to respond.

Commenting on the announcement, chief executive of environmental campaign group ClientEarth James Thornton said: “We have the right to breath clean air and the government has a legal duty to protect us from air pollution. The Commission has singled out the UK following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year. The UK has some of the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in Europe.”

“If Owen Paterson wants to avoid another disaster for his department he will need an ambitious plan to protect people from deadly diesel fumes. We need a national network of low emission zones to save lives and make the UK a world leader in clean transport,” he added.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Jenny Bates said the EU’s legal action is “much needed”, adding that it will “hopefully force the Government to take urgent steps to end a national scandal”.

“The Government, Mayor of London and local authorities must now take tough and rapid measures, such as reducing traffic levels, rather than increasing road-capacity,” said Bates.

Leigh Stringer

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