Campaigners taking Government back to court over air quality

Campaigners are set to go back to court to challenge “major flaws” in the Government’s latest plan to tackle illegal levels of air pollution from diesel vehicles.

Environmental law group Client Earth said the Government’s new draft plan, which is currently subject to a public consultation, does not include measures that its own technical data shows are the best way to bring down air pollution as soon as possible – potentially putting the Government in breach of European legisation.

ClientEarth said that after carefully scrutinising the plan, published on 5 May, it wrote to environment department Defra to ask for improvements but Defra refused, giving them “no option but to ask the court how best to fix the problems”.

This would be the third time ClientEarth’s has challenged ministers over the issue of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which mainly comes from road transport and is estimated to be linked to around 40,000 excess deaths in the UK annually.

The other two times the Government lost, putting pressure on the Conservatives in the run up to the General Election.

James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, said, “We have been looking at the fine detail of the draft Air Quality Plans published by the Government. We want to respond to the Government’s consultation, and want others to be able to as well.

“We have found some major flaws. 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.”

ClientEarth said it was still ‘vitally important’ for people to let the Government know what they thought of the draft plans. It said it will launch an online consultation tool on Thursday to help people respond.

A Defra spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment on legal proceedings.

Speaking for the Conservatives, environment Minister Therese Coffey said, “Conservatives will further improve air quality while making sure that ordinary working families are not penalised for Labour’s mistakes.  The Government is also consulting on what further steps can be taken to mitigate any cost and burdens on ordinary working families and local firms – including the options of targeted scrappage schemes and retrofitting initiatives.”

ClientEarth won a legal challenge two years ago requiring the Government to produce a national plan, which the High Court declared last year to be so inadequate as to be illegal.

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