The UK government has been set an eight-month deadline in which to re-draft its Air Quality Plan by the High Court today (21 November).
Confirmation of the new timetable concludes ClientEarth’s case against the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – after the High Court quashed Defra’s Air Quality Plan earlier this month (see airqualitynews.com story).
The Plan, which itself was re-drawn after an initial challenge by ClientEarth in 2015, was deemed ‘too optimistic’ in its modelling of future nitrogen dioxide emissions by presiding judge Mr Justice Garnham.
The Judge ruled that Defra had taken ‘minimum’ steps to achieve compliance with EU-set limits on NO2 by 2020.
Setting out a timetable for his ruling today, Mr Justice Garnham has given Defra until 24 April 2017 in which to produce a draft Air Quality Plan, and until 31 July 2017 in which to deliver a final one.
According to ClientEarth, the government had initially suggested a deadline of September 2017 in which to deliver its final plan, but that this was rejected by the judge as “far too leisurely”.
The judge has also obliged the government to publish technical data on which it was basing its plans, and has granted ClientEarth permission to return to court if there were any ‘further problems’ with the draft plan.
Commenting on the timetable, a spokeswoman for Defra said: “Improving air quality is a priority for this government and we are determined to cut harmful emissions. 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.”
Speaking outside the court, James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, said: “It is very clear that the government must now act swiftly and decisively to protect British people from toxic and illegal air pollution.
“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.
He added: “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.”