The outcome of an appeal case at the UK Supreme Court on Thursday (March 7) could eventually force the UK government to publish more stringent plans to meet EU air quality targets
A case against the government for failing to comply with EU air pollution limits will heard by the UK Supreme Court of Justice in London on Thursday.
The public hearing from 10.30am until 4pm is expected to last just one day and the outcome could eventually force the UK government to publish more stringent plans to meet EU air quality targets.
Environmental campaign group ClientEarth has been fighting the government through the courts to try and force it to submit a new strategy to meet EU targets by 2015.
The group lost an appeal at the High Court in July 2012, which ruled that any action to force the government to submit a new strategy for improving air quality would need to be carried out by the European Commission. ClientEarth then applied to the Supreme Court for an appeal hearing, which it was announced in January 2013 would take place this week (see airqualitynews.com story).
The Supreme Court only hears those cases which are “of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole populationâ€?.
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.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said he was not sure when a final judgement on the case would be made, but that it could take weeks or months.
Commenting on the hearing this week, he said: “I’m confident that we will get something out of this. Hopefully we will get a reference to the European Court and issues with air quality breaches in this country will go some way towards being resolved.â€?
The UK Supreme Court must refer to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg on any question of European Union law, where the answer is not clear and is necessary for it to give judgment.
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.â€?
The ‘R (ClientEarth) v. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ hearing takes place on Thursday and will be streamed live on the Supreme Court of Justice website.