The government has until the end of September to provide the European Commission with data about breaches of particulate limits in 2011 that will determine if the country will face EU sanctions.
The deadline emerged in a letter sent by the Commission earlier in the summer to clean air campaigner Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air London.
Mr Birkett had contacted the Commission in January 2012 urging the EC to instigate ‘immediate infringement action’ against the UK for breaches of PM10 limit values in London, as well as its failure to implement a plan to bring 28 zones under the ambient air quality levels.
In a response sent to Mr Birkett in June, the Commission declined the request to enforce infringement action against the UK, but revealed that it is currently awaiting clarification on a number of issues from the UK before deciding whether it would face sanctions.
It said: “We have asked the United Kingdom authorities to provide us with clarification on the consultation process which was undertaken for the Updated air quality plan for London in 2011, on the exceedances at Neasden Lane, Horn Lane and Upper Thames Street, the future monitoring stations they will propose to use to communicate compliance to the Commission, the use of dust suppressants near monitoring stations and the situation with regard to air quality plans and programmes for NO2.”
It added: “For breaches of PM10 limit values we would need to verify the data which the United Kingdom is required by end September 2012 before any decision in this regard can be taken.”
European legislation, which came into force in 2005, sets limits for the maximum concentrations of certain pollutants in the air. If these limits are exceeded more than 35 times in a calendar year in designated air quality zones, the EU can decide to take infringement actions against these Member States.
The EC has already taken action against Member States who have breached the PM10 limits including France and Belgium who were referred to the EU Court of Justice in 2011.
The Commission is currently considering whether or not to take action against the UK, which missed a 2010 deadline to put in place measures to prevent emission levels being breached at 28 zones across the country by 2015.
Environmental campaign group Client Earth challenged the government in court to draw up plans to enable the UK to meet the 2015 target.
And, the High Court ruled in June that it could not force the government to take action, stating that it is the EC’s responsibility to force the government to implement a plan that would bring the country beneath the legal pollutant limits.
The government had attempted to negotiate a later deadline to bring itself in line with the pollutant levels for 24 areas- a request that was turned down by the Commission in June in 12 zones based on a lack of clear commitment in the plans to set up low emission zones (see AirQualityNews story).