The campaigning lawyers who have repeatedly defeated the Government in court over the adequacy of its proposals to tackle air pollution have accused ministers of producing a ‘shabby rewrite’ of earlier plans.
James Thornton, CEO of environmental lawyers ClientEarth, said: ‘On our initial examination, this is little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans and is underwhelming and lacking in urgency. Having promised to make air quality a top priority, [environment secretary] Michael Gove appears to have fallen at the first hurdle.
‘This plan is, yet again, a plan for more plans. The Government is passing the buck to local authorities to come up with their own schemes as an alternative to clean air zones which charge the most polluting vehicles to enter our towns and cities. Yet [environment department] Defra’s own evidence shows that charging clean air zones would be the swiftest way to tackle illegal levels of pollution.
‘We are still looking at December 2018 before local authorities need to come up with their proposals but we have no idea when those plans would then be put in place or whether they’d be effective. This plan kicks the can down the road yet again.’
Dr Adrian Philips, director of public health at Birmingham City Council, one of five cities that will be required to bring in a charging Clean Air Zone by the end of 2019, said: ‘We are clear that any measures implemented in Birmingham, including a Clean Air Zone, must be based on robust evidence, which we are currently gathering in order to develop our proposals ahead of a full public consultation. This is in addition to the work we are already doing to improve air quality across the city.
‘The challenge is enormous and our greatest concern is that the time for councils to take real action is fast running out, yet they bear the brunt of the health and economic problems. Responsibility should not rest solely with local authorities.’
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) called on the Government not to overlook safety needs and urged councils to think very carefully before removing speed humps in the name of public health – a measure mooted in the air quality plan to prevent start-stop driving, which creates more emissions.
Executive director David Davies said: ‘PACTS strongly supports measures to improve air quality in our towns and cities. But the Government must not throw out the safety baby with the air quality bathwater. We need vehicles that are clean, driven at speeds that are safe.’