The Government could be forced to launch new air pollution plans following a hearing in the UK’s highest court today.
Marking the culmination of a four-year battle in domestic and international courts, Supreme Court judges will today hear environmental group ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government over failures to reduce Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels and responses from the secretary of state.
Current plans are not expected to bring toxic NO2 emissions, which are often produced by surface transport, to within legal limits in 16 cities and regions including London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow until 2030. This would be 20 years after the original deadline.
The UK is facing fines of up to £300m from the EU for the breach, with these costs likely to be passed to councils by the Government.
The hearing follows a ruling in the European Court of Justice in November, which held the UK must have a plan to meet air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’.
Campaigners hope the Supreme Court will order the Government to produce a new air pollution plan that would bind the future secretary of state into action regardless of their political affiliation.
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.’
‘We need to get the most polluting diesel vehicles out of city centres as soon as possible for the sake of our health and our children’s health.’
It is thought at least 29,000 people die early in the UK every year as a result of air pollution, with fumes being linked to coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes and reduced lung function in children
Commenting on the case, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, Jenny Bates, said: ‘The Government should be forced to come up with an urgent action plan to stop people choking on dirty air and end this national disgrace.
‘It is 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 – as well as scrapping East London road river crossings plans, which would just add to the problem.’