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Government fails to tackle air pollution

Traffic congestion roads 3x2

Activist group ClientEarth has won its High Court case against the government over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK.

ClientEarth brought the case against the government saying that it had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible”.

Justice Garnham agreed with the group and said that ministers knew that over optimistic pollution modelling was being used.

In his ruling, the judge, who listened to two days of evidence at the High Court last month, questioned the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) five-year modelling. He labelled the modelling as “inconsistent” with taking measures to improve pollution “as soon as possible.”

He added that Defra’s planned 2020 compliance for some cities, and 2025 for London, had been chosen because that was the date when ministers thought they would face European Commission fines, not a deadline that they considered “as soon as possible”.

The case is the second the government has lost on its failure to clean up air pollution in two years.

In April 2015, ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling against the government that ordered ministers to come up with a plan to reduce air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible. ClientEarth said that those plans were so poor that it had to take the government back to the High Court in a Judicial Review.

In his judgment, Justice Garnham ruled that the government’s 2015 Air Quality Plan failed to comply with the Supreme Court ruling or relevant European Union directives. He said that the government had erred in law by fixing compliance dates based on over optimistic modelling of pollution levels.

“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,” said ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton.

“The time for legal action is over. This is an urgent public health crisis over 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.”

During evidence, the court heard that Defra’s original plans for a more extensive network of clean air zones in more than a dozen UK cities had been watered down, on cost grounds, to five in addition to London.

“We hope the new government will finally get on with preparing a credible plan to resolve this issue once and for all. We look forward to working with Defra ministers on developing a new plan which makes a genuine attempt to achieve legal limits throughout the UK as soon as possible,” added ClientEarth air quality lawyer Alan Andrews.

“We need a national network of clean air zones to be in place by 2018 in cities across the UK, not just in a handful of cities. The government also needs to stop these inaccurate modelling forecasts.

“Future projections of compliance need to be based on what is really coming out of the exhausts of diesel cars when driving on the road, not just the results of discredited laboratory tests.”

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