Defra in court over air pollution levels

The government is due in the Supreme Court of Justice today (March 7) facing accusations that it has failed to put sufficient measures in place to comply with EU air pollution limits.

The hearing is set to run from 10.30am until 4pm, in a case brought against the Department for Environment for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) by Environmental campaign group ClientEarth.

The ClientEarth appeal is being heard today at the Supreme Court (Photo - UK Supreme Court)

The ClientEarth appeal is being heard today at the Supreme Court (Photo – UK Supreme Court)

If the government is unsuccessful it could be forced to publish more stringent plans to meet air quality targets.

Under the 2008 EU Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC), targets to reduce key air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and particular matter PM10 need to be met by 2015.

However, several regions and cities in the UK will not meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide until 2020 under the government’s current plans, and the government did not establish more stringent plans in order to apply for an extension beyond 2015.

In June 2011, Defra published draft air quality plans for public consultation. The draft overview statement said that of the 40 zones which exceeded EU limits, compliance may be achieved by 2015 in 23 zones. Meanwhile, 16 zones are expected to achieve compliance between 2015 and 2020, and compliance in London is expected to be achieved before 2025.

Challenge

The legal challenge is being backed by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, whose London campaigner Jenny Bates described the capital’s air quality as a ‘national scandal’.

She said: “It’s a disgrace the UK is failing so badly on air pollution – tens of thousands of people die every year across the country because of poor air quality.

“Action by the Government and Mayor for London to clean up our dirty air is too little too late – and road-building plans, such as those proposed for the capital, will simply make the situation worse. It’s time to end this national scandal.”

Speaking ahead of the hearing earlier this week a Defra spokeswoman said: “The UK’s air quality plans on nitrogen dioxide are being challenged this week by Client Earth in the Supreme Court, having been upheld in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

“Our air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and most of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.  Our plans for nitrogen dioxide set out all the important work being done to meet EU standards in the shortest possible time.”

ClientEarth brought the case to the Supreme Court after losing a similar bid at the High Court to force the government to impose more stringent air quality measures in July 2012 (see airqualitynews.com story).

It is thought that a judgement on the case could take several weeks to be prepared.