Government loses third air quality case

The UK Government's proposals to address air quality issues have been declared illegal by a High Court ruling today (Wednesday 21st February), with campaigners claiming a third victory over plans to tackle air pollution.

Judge Mr Justice Garnham handed down the ruling after declaring that the government's failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution was unlawful.

Ministers have been ordered to require the local authorities in question to investigate and identify ways to tackle the illegal levels of air pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible. Of the 45, 12 local authorities are projected to have legal air quality levels by the end of the year.

Previous air quality plans had proposed Clean Air Zones, similar to the one being established in Central London, which would either ban or charge cars that don't meet certain emissions regulations.

Mr Justice Garnham said: "Because the obligation is zone-specific, the fact that each of the 45 local authority areas will achieve compliance in any event by 2021 is of no immediate significance.

"The Environment Secretary must ensure that, in each of the 45 areas, steps are taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely."

"In effect, these local authorities are being urged and encouraged to come up with proposals to improve air quality over the next three years, but are not being required to do so. In my judgement, that sort of exhortation is not sufficient."

This is the third time that environmental lawyers and campaigners ClientEarth have beaten the government on air quality plans. Speaking outside of the court, ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: "For the third time in the space of three years, the courts have declared that the government is failing in its obligation to clean up the air in our towns and cities.

"We are delighted that the court has today ordered the government to urgently take further action to fix the dangerous air pollution in our towns and cities. The problem was supposed to be cleaned up over eight years ago, and yet successive governments have failed to do enough.

"The people who live in areas of England and Wales covered by this judgement deserve to be able breathe clean air and the government must now do all it can to make that happen quickly."