Environmental campaigners are set to take the government back to court over what they say are ministers’ repeated failings to deal with the UK’s air pollution crisis.
ClientEarth, which has already won two court battles against the government, has written a legal letter demanding that the environment secretary Michael Gove sets out a range of new measures to address air pollution which contributes to the deaths of 40,000 people across the UK each year.
If the government fails to comply with this “letter before action”, as it is known, ClientEarth will issue new proceedings and ministers are likely to face a third judicial review.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews, announcing the new legal proceedings, said the government’s proposal had “simply passed the buck to local authorities who will have little option but to impose charges on diesel vehicles”.
He added: “It is high time that the government kept up its end of the bargain and helped ordinary people and small businesses make the shift away from diesel towards cleaner forms of transport.”
The renewed legal pressure on the government comes as new figures show the number of local authority areas in the UK which are breaching their air quality targets reached a seven-year high in 2016.
Government statistics show a total of 278 of the 391 local authorities (71%) missed their air quality targets last year, up from 258 in 2010.
Andrews said the figures were rising despite the government being ordered by both the supreme court and high court to clean up the country’s illegal air pollution “in the shortest possible time”.
“These new figures show that this is a national problem that requires a national solution,” he said.
Client Earth first successfully challenged the government in 2015 when the supreme court ruled ministers must draw up plans to meet EU pollution rules by the end of that year. Eighteen months later, following a second judicial review, the high court judged these new proposals were illegally inadequate.
ClientEarth then challenged the government’s draft proposals that were released in May but this new legal action is likely to lead to the third judicial review of the government’s policy in the past five years.
In its legal letter, ClientEarth points out that under the government’s existing plans 45 local authorities are not being required to take action on air quality, despite being forecast to breach air pollution limits for years to come.
It criticised the government’s lack of progress on key national policies such as changes to the tax system to favour cleaner vehicles; a targeted diesel scrappage scheme and a “clean air fund” to help local authorities tackle pollution.
The letter also calls on the secretary of state to introduce specific measures and a “concrete timetable” to address these failings. The government has until Friday to respond.
The prospect of legal action comes amid growing concern about the scale of the UK’s air pollution crisis. Earlier this month it emerged that as well as illegal levels of diesel pollution, every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for dangerous tiny toxic particles known as PM2.5.
Last month the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste said the UK government was “flouting” its duty to protect the lives and health of its citizens from illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution.
And a new study published on Tuesday found that people are increasingly feeling the impact of toxic air. The survey by London councils revealed that almost half of those surveyed felt their health had been adversely effected, 40% said it had an impact on where they chose to live and a quarter said it was a factor in which school they wanted their children to go to.
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the findings were further evidence that air pollution was taking its toll on people’s day-to-day lives.
“Air pollution effects everyone, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest, including the elderly, children and people with lung conditions. We need strong national policies to support local authorities.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Food and Rural Affairs said the government had “put in place a £3bn plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions”.
“We will also end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and next year we will publish a comprehensive clean air strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution.”
Client Earth taking UK government back to court for 3rd time over inadequate air pollution plans
Environmental lawyers who have defeated ministers twice, on UK air pollution improvements, are going back to court to try to remove ‘major flaws’ from government’s air quality plans. Environmental lawyers, Client Earth, are taking the government to the high court for a 3rd time. They have inflicted two humiliating defeats on the government over previous plans, which the court ruled did not meet legal requirements. ClientEarth had requested improvements to the latest plan (published on 5th May) from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) but were refused, prompting the new court action. James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, said: “The law requires the final plan to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the shortest time possible. These flaws seriously jeopardise that timetable. These are plans for more plans, what we need are plans for action.” Client Earth says the most effective way to reduce NO2 pollution is by discouraging polluting vehicles from entering cities and towns. However, the DEFRA consultation states that charging zones should only be the option of last resort, after measures such as removing speed bumps and encouraging cycling have been tried. However, those measures would have insufficient effect. Government is reluctant to penalise drivers of diesel vehicles, who bought them in good faith.
ClientEarth takes government back to court over the inadequate plan it produced in December
Environmental lawyers, ClientEarth, have launched a new legal challenge against the UK government due to its repeated failure to tackle illegal air pollution. In this latest round of legal action, ClientEarth has lodged papers at the High Court in London seeking judicial review and will serve papers on government lawyers shortly. As well as the UK Environment Secretary who is named as the defendant, Scottish and Welsh ministers, the Mayor of London and the DfT will also be served with papers as interested parties in the case. ClientEarth believes the government is in breach of a Supreme Court order to clean up air quality. The Supreme Court ordered DEFRA to produce new air quality plans to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the “shortest possible time”. But the plans the government came up with, released on 17 December 2015, wouldn’t bring the UK within legal air pollution limits until 2025. The original, legally binding deadline passed in 2010. The papers lodged with the High Court ask judges to strike down those plans, order new ones and intervene to make sure the government acts. ClientEarth said: “As the government can’t be trusted to deal with toxic air pollution, we are asking the court to supervise it and make sure it is taking action.” ClientEarth are launching a fundraising campaign to help fund this work. #NO2DIRTYAIR
DEFRA produces plan to improve air quality – Client Earth regards it as inadequate
A ruling by the Supreme Court in April 2015 required the government to produce a comprehensive plan to meet air pollution limits by December. The government has now produced this. The intention is that it has to include low emission zones, congestion charging and other economic incentives. It is thought that due to the failure to meet European limits of harmful NOx gases, which are mostly caused by diesel traffic, there are up to 9,500 premature deaths each year in London alone. Under the government’s plan, “Clean Air Zones” will be introduced – by 2020 – in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton where pollution is most serious. However, though vehicles like old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries have to pay a charge to enter these zones – private passenger cars will not be charged. Also newer vehicles that meet the latest emission standards will not need to pay. Client Earth, the lawyers who brought the legal case against the UK government, for breaching the EU’s Air Quality Directive, said the plan falls far short of the action necessary to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and they will make a legal challenge to force the government to take faster action to achieve legal pollution limits. “As soon as possible,” or by 2020, is not soon enough.
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Supreme Court hears ClientEarth case on getting faster UK action to comply with legal NO2 limits
The Supreme Court in the UK heard ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government over its failure to meet legal limits for air pollution, for the final time on 16th April. This is the culmination of a 4-year battle in the UK and EU courts. The UK has been in breach of EU NO2 limit values in 16 areas. The Supreme Court case follows the 2014 ruling by the ECJ which held that the UK must have a plan to achieve air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’. The UK Government’s current plans will not meet legal limits for NO2 until after 2030 – almost a quarter of a century after the original deadline. ClientEarth is calling on the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to rapidly deliver cuts to NO2 emissions in towns and cities across the UK. The plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles, which are the main source of NO2 pollution. That is particularly the case around Heathrow. ClientEarth wants Defra to produce the plan within 3 months. Defra’s lawyers suggested the plan might be produced before the end of 2015, but there is no indication when all areas would be compliant. As one of the five Supreme Court justices, Lord Carnwath, commented: “Here we are 4 years on without any idea when the Secretary of State thinks it will achieve compliance.” Judgment will probably be given one to three months after the hearing.