Around four in ten local authorities in the UK breached air quality limits last year, new figures obtained from the Government have revealed.
As many as 169 local authorities local authorities out of a UK total of 418, were in breach of annual limits on toxic nitrogen dioxide in 2015 - a gas produced predominantly by road traffic and linked to lung disease and heart attacks.
The figures were obtained by Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in a Written Parliamentary Question. The news follows a report in April from the committee, which found poor air quality was linked to over 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.
Mr Parish said: ‘These are shocking statistics. When we think of areas breaking air quality laws, we usually think of a handful of areas in our busiest towns and cities. These figures show just how widespread the problem is across the UK. It requires a comprehensive solution – urgently.’
The MP is working with the liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue to increase the number of Clean Air Zones in pollution hotspots to improve air quality.
‘The Government needs to act now to give all councils the power – and crucially, the funding - to implement a Clean Air Zone and limit the most polluting vehicles in hotspot areas,’ Mr Parish said.
The news also follows the Government having been dragged through the courts over its failure to meet EU legal limits on air pollution, and its alleged failure to develop a reasonable plan for combating the problem ‘as soon as possible’.
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth launched a judicial review in the High Court this month challenging the adequacy of the Government’s air quality plan, published last December.
The group has argued that the Government failed to take action to comply with legal air pollution limits 'as soon as possible' and was focused on cost over compliance.
Defra argued in its defence that it has ‘always accepted’ it was in breach of EU pollution limits and ‘did not resile’ from its duty to reduce NO2.
Defra argued that: 'The Air Quality Plan contains proportionate, feasible and effective measures to address the anticipated non-compliant nitrogen dioxide levels in particular zones.'
The two-day hearing was concluded last week. Judgement has been reserved. ClientEarth hopes for a ruling in the coming weeks.