Government to face 2016 court action over air quality

Environmental NGO ClientEarth has asserted that the government “will be taken back to the High Court early next year” as the UK’s now-published air quality plan “falls far short of the action necessary” to comply with EU air pollution law.

The plan published today would see all but London comply with EU NO2 limits by 2020

Defra’s air quality plan would see all but London comply with EU NO2 limits by 2020

Following several years of legal action brought by ClientEarth, the government was in April ordered to produce a new plan to comply with EU nitrogen dioxide limits ‘in the shortest time possible’. It was given a deadline of December 31 2015 to do so.

However, the Supreme Court judgment also enabled the possibility of Defra being taken back to court once again if ClientEarth considered the measures set out in any new UK air quality plan to be insufficient with regards to the judgment.

And, commenting after the new air quality plan for the UK was published yesterday (December 17), ClientEarth lawyers concluded that it will now make a legal challenge “to force the government to take faster action to achieve legal pollution limits”.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: “These plans are an outrageous statement to the Supreme Court essentially stating that the government doesn’t intend to comply as soon as possible. It is an arrogant response that is simply not good enough.”

Clean Air Zones

Defra’s plans include a commitment for ‘Clean Air Zones’ to discourage the most polluting buses, taxis and lorries from driving through designated areas of five English cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Derby and Nottingham – by 2020, as well as a national framework for similar zones to be implemented in other parts of the UK (see AirQualityNews.com story).

However, ClientEarth said that other cities with NO2 problems “such as Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool” are not required by the plan to have such zones.

ClientEarth air quality lawyer, Alan Andrews, said: “The government seem to think that the health of people in cities like Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol is less important than that of people in London. While London gets a clean air zone covering all vehicles, Birmingham gets a second class zone and Derby and Southampton third class, while other areas including Manchester and Liverpool are left out. We all have the same right to breathe clean air.”

The NGO had previously hinted on several occasions that further court action was likely after Defra consulted on a draft version of the air quality plan between September and November (see AirQualityNews.com story).

When contacted by AirQualityNews.com, a spokesman for Defra said it would not be commenting further at this stage on the plans laid out by the Department yesterday.

Autogas

Elsewhere, though, Defra’s plan for Clean Air Zones in five English cities by 2020 was welcomed by LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) supplier Autogas Ltd as an opportunity to further encourage diesel-alternative fuels.

Linda Gomersall, Autogas Ltd general manager, said: “We’re extremely encouraged by these latest plans to help clean up air quality in the UK’s most affected towns and cities.

“We have already made significant progress with Birmingham in helping the city replace its taxi fleet with a cleaner LPG solution. The creation of the Clean Air Zones and the ongoing focus of vehicles such as taxi cabs means that we are confident that many other towns and cities will now look towards pioneering cities such as Birmingham and see how they too can introduce a cleaner LPG powered alternative that can make an immediate positive impact.”

Autogas claimed that its LPG powered TX4 black cab received a “positive response” when presented on the Parliamentary estate last week. The vehicle reportedly produces “significantly lower levels of NOx emissions compared with a normal diesel powered version”.

Linda Gomersall added: “We look forward to further discussions with Defra to ensure that drivers of retrofitted LPG vehicles can enter the Clean Air Zones without any restrictions and helping address the clean air challenge on a much wider basis. Furthermore we are keen to talk to any other councils, local authorities or van fleets about how LPG can help them reduce their vehicle emissions.”

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