Government heading to court again over air quality

Environmental pressure group ClientEarth has announced it will challenge government in the High Court for a third time over plans to tackle air quality. Defra published its draft plan to reduce air pollution in towns and cities on 5 May, after the High Court rejected government's request to delay publication until three weeks after the General Election on 30 June. This was a beefed up attempt at addressing the issue after ClientEarth had twice successfully challenged government over its failure to tackle illegal levels of dangerous emissions, principally from road traffic.

ClientEarth reacted by joining others including the London Mayor Sadiq Khan in criticising the new plans as 'weak and inaequate'. Now after considering the detail of what Defra is proposing and receiving a refusal to its request for changes, the group of environmental lawyers has confirmed it will sue government again.

“We have been looking at the fine detail of the draft air quality plans published by the government and found some major flaws," said ClientEarth CEO James Thornton. "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."

Government's new plan reiterates existing measures, which include current road investments and efforts to encourage take up of low emission vehicles, plus it introduces some new actions to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide emissions. These new measures include new 'real-driving' emissions standards for vehicle manufacturers and a mandate on local authorities to implement clean air zones. However, it doesn't make any commitment towards enforcing lowering of emissions, or reducing the most polluting diesel vehicles through a scrappage scheme.

“The government’s plans and consultation do not match what its own evidence says needs to happen. If the evidence shows that taking certain measures will be necessary to tackle the public health crisis of polluted air, then the plans and associated consultation needs to make that clear," Thornton said.

“This is essential so that people can have their say and we get the best possible final plans when they are due to be published, as ordered by the court, on July 31.”

ClientEarth has launched its own online consultation tool as it encourages the public to respond to the government’s current air quality plan.


Thornton added: “We are challenging on two fronts because of the urgency of this public health crisis. We’re asking the High Court to consider the problems with the plans and consultation. That is now in the court’s hands. In the meantime, it is important for as many people as possible to tell Defra that the plans don’t make sense and won’t tackle illegal air quality in our towns and cities.”