MPs have criticised the Government for missing Monday’s High Court deadline for publishing draft plans to improve air quality.
Having been ordered by the court last November to produce a draft national Air Quality Plan by 4pm on Monday (24 April) Government lawyers applied to the court on Friday evening to defer publication, citing ‘pre-election proprietary rules’.
In a letter to to environment secretary Andrea Leadsom, the chairman of the cross-party Environment Food, and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish, said MPs were disappointed that she had proposed delaying publication until June.
He wrote: 'This is an unacceptable delay, which would result in final plans not being produced until the Autumn. It is essential that the Government acts with all speed to finalise plans to cut emissions so as to protect the health of people living in polluted areas.
'Plans for Clean Air Zones across the UK must be put in place urgently to reduce levels of pollutants to not only meet legal levels but also to ensure that people are not exposed to unnecessary health risks.'
The Government has said it will publish the plan on 30 June. Ms Leadsom told the Commons on Monday: ‘We have our draft air quality plan for NO2 ready.'
She added: ‘In the course of developing our draft plan, it became clear that local authorities would have to play a central role in delivering the final air quality plan, so the Government initially sought to defer publication of the plan and the launch of the consultation on it until after the purdah period for local authority elections.
‘Since that application was lodged, the prime minister has called a general election, and a further period of purdah commenced on 21 April.’
Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, told MPs: ‘It is unacceptable for her to hide behind the election to delay publishing her plans. Cabinet Office rules are clear that purdah is not an excuse to delay acting on vital public health matters.’
The High Court has ordered a hearing for Thursday morning to consider the Government’s attempt to delay publication of the plan.
Lawyers for campaign group ClientEarth, which has twice won court victories over ministers on the issue, will attend.
James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth said: ‘We are preparing our response to the Government’s application. This is a public health issue and not a political issue. Urgent action is required to protect people’s health from the illegal and poisonous air that we are forced to breathe in the UK.
‘This is a matter for the court to decide once the Government has made its arguments because it is the Government which has not met, and instead seeks to extend, the court's deadline for the clean air plan, to clean up our air.’