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Defra in the dock as Supreme Court judgement looms

The UK government will learn whether it will be forced to produce a new air quality plan to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits when the Supreme Court hands down its final judgement today (April 29)

The UK government will learn whether it will be forced to produce a new air quality plan to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits when the Supreme Court hands down its final judgement today (April 29).

The UK Supreme Court's final judgement in ClientEarth's case against the UK government will be handed down on April 29 (Photo - UK Supreme Court)

The UK Supreme Court’s final judgement in ClientEarth’s case against the UK government will be handed down on April 29 (Photo – UK Supreme Court)

The culmination of a case first brought by environmental lawyer organisation ClientEarth in 2011, the final judgement will be streamed live on the Supreme Court website this morning from 9.45am.

It concerns Defra’s current air quality plan, published in 2011, under which the UK is not expected to meet EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones – Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas – until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.

At the final hearing in the legal battle less than two weeks ago (see AirQualityNews.com story), ClientEarth asked the Supreme Court to force Defra to produce a new air quality plan “within three months” that will meet certain stipulations.

But Defra says it is currently drafting a new air quality plan, which is likely to surface before the end of the year.

Although no date was given, a judgement in the case had previously been expected to come after the upcoming General Election, and ClientEarth said it was “delighted that the Court has dealt with this so quickly”.

The Supreme Court is situated opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and, coming just over a week before polling opens in the 2015 election, the judgement is likely to bring the UK’s air pollution issues higher up the agenda during the current campaign period.

It follows a ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in 2014 and concerns Defra’s failure to meet EU nitrogen dioxide objectives by the original 2010 deadline set out in the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive – a deadline to which the UK failed to apply for an extension.

According to the Supreme Court: “This issue in this case is whether, as regards areas where compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits set out in the Directive could not be achieved by 1 January 2010, the Directive requires the Respondent to have prepared an air quality plan which demonstrates compliance by 1 January 2015. If the Court finds there is such a requirement, a further question is what remedies the Court should provide where the Respondent has not prepared an air quality plan which demonstrates such compliance.”

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