High Court rejects Defra’s timetable for new air quality plan

22nd November 2016

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Steve Leatherbarrow

The High Court has ordered the government to draw up a new air quality plan by July 2017 after ruling that its own deadline of September was ar too leisurely'.

The order follows a High Court ruling at the beginning of the month that the environment department’s (Defra) strategy to cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was not lawful since it would not bring the UK into compliance with the law ‘as soon as possible’, as ordered by the Supreme Court after Defra lost a similar case in April 2015.

The strategy, published by Defra in 2015, included plans to create clean air zones (CAZs) in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. The zones would introduce charges for buses, taxis, coaches and lorries that do not meet minimum emissions standards.

A draft plan to replace this must be ready by April 2017, with a final plan complete by July, Mr Justice Garnham said.

The judge also ordered Defra to publish the technical data on which it was basing its plans. The department had knowingly used over-optimistic estimates of future emissions from diesel cars, he said.

He granted ClientEarth permission to go back to court if there were any further problems with the draft plan.

James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, said: ‘We are delighted with the ruling and the fact the judge did not agree with the government’s timetable for tackling this public health crisis.

‘The government has said throughout this process that it takes air pollution seriously. Until now, its actions have not lived up to this claim. Now is the time for the government to prove that it truly cares about people’s health and the environment and take decisive action to tackle illegal air pollution in this country,’ he said.

Defra’s data shows that NO2 is responsible for 23,500 deaths a year in the UK. Limits for NO2 were introduced by EU law in 1999 and were due to be achieved by 2010.

A spokesperson for Defra said: ‘Our plans have always followed the best available evidence - we have always been clear that we are ready to update them if necessary.

‘We can now confirm a timetable for updating our plans next year and further improving the nation’s air quality,’ he added.


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