High Court rules Government air quality plan illegal


Campaigners ClientEarth have won their latest High Court case against the Government over the adequacy of its plans to tackle illegal levels of toxic air pollution.

Updated: The Government has said it accepts the court's judgement.

Judge Mr Justice Garnham agreed with ClientEarth that in publishing a National Air Quality Plan last December the then Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the EU air quality directive ‘as soon as possible’, as required.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton

Air pollution is estimated to cause around 40,000 excess deaths annually in the UK.

Ministers were required to produce the plan after an earlier Supreme Court victory by ClientEarth. It deals mainly with nitrogen dioxide from diesel vehicles and includes clean air zones (CAZs) in five cities, as well as measures in London.

During the hearing last month, ClientEarth’s lawyers said that documents disclosed as part of the case showed that the Treasury watered down the plan by reducing the number of CAZs and exempting private cars.

Mr Justice Garnham said that ministers knew that over optimistic modelling on nitrogen dioxide was being used and said environment department Defra’s five year modelling was inconsistent with taking measures to achieve compliance as soon as possible.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Garnham ruled that the national Air Quality Plan failed to comply with the Supreme Court ruling or relevant EU Directives and said the Government had erred in law by fixing compliance dates based on over optimistic modelling.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: ‘I am pleased that the judge agrees with us that the Government could and should be doing more to deal with air pollution and protecting people’s health. That’s why we went to court.

‘The time for legal action is over. This is an urgent public health crisis which the Prime Minister must take personal control. I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The High Court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, Prime Minister.’

London mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the ruling. He said: ‘Today’s High Court ruling brings sharply into focus the scale of the country’s air pollution crisis and lays the blame at the door of the Government for its complacency in failing to tackle the problem quickly and credibly. In so doing they have let down millions of people the length and breadth of the country.'

Mr Khan calling for a revised package of measures from the Government to include funding a national diesel scrappage scheme to take the most polluting vehicles off the roads and an overhaul of vehicle excise duty to incentivise people to buy the cleanest vehicles

He also pointed to last week’s decision to back a new runway at Heathrow airport and said ministers should ‘use this opportunity to set out clearly how it is possible for Londoners not to suffer from the additional air and noise pollution that will be created by an additional runway’.

A Defra spokesperson said: 'Improving air quality is a priority for this Government and we are determined to cut harmful emissions. Our plans have always followed the best available evidence - we have always been clear that we are ready to update them if necessary and have been at the forefront of action in Europe to secure more accurate, real-world emissions testing for diesel cars.

'Whilst our huge investment in green transport initiatives and plans to introduce Clean Air Zones around the country will help tackle this problem, we accept the court’s judgment.

'We will now carefully consider this ruling, and our next steps, in detail.'


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