Campaigners have sent a final legal warning to the Government, giving environment secretary Liz Truss ‘10 days to act on air pollution’ or face further legal action.
Last April environmental law organisation ClientEarth won a judgement against the government in the Supreme Court, which ordered ministers to draw up effective plans to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
It said it issued a new legal letter because environment department Defra's latest plans ‘fall woefully short of what was ordered by the court’. If it does not receive a satisfactory reply within 10 days, it will launch legal proceedings in the High Court.
In December the Government announced plans ‘to improve air quality in cities whilst minimising the impact on business’. Clean Air Zones are to be introduced in five cities by 2020, but will not affect private cars.
Plans for Clean Air Zones will not affect private cars
ClientEarth said the Government's plans ‘do not envisage the UK to have legal levels of air pollution until 2025’.
It has asked the Government to produce new plans with a list of measures that will bring air pollution within legal limits in the shortest time possible and put these plans out to public consultation.
Recent research suggests 40,000 early deaths in the UK annually are linked to air pollution.
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, said: ‘Despite an order from the UK's highest court, despite tens of thousands of premature deaths in this country every year and despite clear evidence to show that air pollution has a terrible effect on the health of vulnerable groups like children, the government has consistently ducked its responsibility to ensure our right to clean air.
’We have had to issue this legal warning to the government because of its failure to produce a plan that would bring air pollution down as soon as possible.’
Howard Price, principal policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: ‘It’s not entirely surprising that ClientEarth has felt it has to pursue this course of action. If Defra`s Plan amounts to a complete plan at all, it still made no attempt to demonstrate that it will lead to compliance with EU limit values “as soon as possible” and ministers appear to be deliberately dragging their feet.
‘It is imperative that Defra now produces the templates and draft legislation for Clean Air Zones, along with greater clarity about their funding, quickly. Only then can we really assess their likely effectiveness in bringing down NO2 levels or, alternatively, know if even more stringent measures might be needed.’
Transport Network has approached Defra for comment.