Government goes on trial for air pollution ‘failure’

The UK Supreme Court will hear ClientEarth's case against the UK Government over its 'failure' to meet deadlines for legal limits on air pollution in what will be the culmination of a four year battle.

ClientEarth, a group of activist lawyers, want the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to deliver urgent cuts to illegal UK air pollution levels.

Under current EU Directive, member states had to comply with air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide by 2010. But the UK Government does not plan to meet these limits until after 2030 in 16 cities and regions across the country, including London, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow.

That’s despite scientists estimating that at least 29,000 people die early in the UK from air pollution and Nitrogen Dioxide, mainly produced by diesel vehicles.

Diesel ban

Last year, the European Court ruled that the UK must produce a plan to achieve air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’.

ClientEarth want new plans to particularly tackle diesel vehicles, banning them from city centres “as soon as possible”.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews, said: “We all have the right to breathe clean air and ClientEarth has spent the last four years fighting to uphold that right in Court.

“The Government’s current plans won’t achieve legal limits for decades. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes and cancer.”

Friends of the Earth support ClientEarth’s actions, calling the Government’s plans “a national disgrace”. The group’s air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: “UK air pollution kills tens of thousands of people prematurely each year in the UK, and puts extra strain on our beleaguered NHS.

“It’s time to tackle the main cause of this pollution, which is too much dirty traffic, by encouraging cleaner vehicles and getting more people on to bikes, buses, trains.”

World’s First ULEZ

The UK’s air situation was put firmly back in the spotlight last week after warm, still conditions combined with traffic fumes to produce a smog spike across the South East and eastern England and reigniting calls for the next Government to focus on air quality improvements and develop a national framework of Low Emission Zones.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has recently confirmed plans to launch the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), but received criticism from the London Assembly for the five-year delay. Earlier this month, Johnson was deemed “lucky” for the capital to have been rated highly for its air pollution mitigation in a new ranking of 23 European cities on air quality.

Airport expansion 

With debate raging on the right location to expand to one of the UK’s airports, rurally-based Gatwick has today highlighted the importance of taking into account air pollution levels in the final decision of where to place a second runway.

The airport cites a recent DEFRA report that said it was not expecting compliance with EU NO2 levels in the Heathrow area until the early 2030’s, without taking into account the additional pollution the construction and operation of a second runway would create.

“The UK needs a new runway but the decision about where it should be built must take into account the environmental impact it would have, especially in terms of noise and air quality,” Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said: “The air quality around Heathrow is critical to the airport’s development plans – if legal standards cannot be met around Heathrow, then expansion there would be unlawful.

“Gatwick has never breached legal air quality limits and would still operate within these standards with a second runway.

Lucinda Dann

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie