Government to face Judicial Review over NO2 pollution plan

The UK government will head back to court this summer in defence of its plans to tackle air pollution after the High Court granted permission for a Judicial Review hearing.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews with supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice after lodging the court papers in March

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews with supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice after lodging the court papers in March

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth lodged application papers with the High Court last month for renewed legal action against Defra, describing the government’s “woeful” plan to tackle nitrogen dioxide levels in the UK as an “insult to those being made sick and dying from air pollution” (see AirQualityNews.com story).

ClientEarth claims that the government’s plans, which include implementing Clean Air Zones in five English cities by 2020, do not go far enough towards tackling levels of NO2 and would leave the UK in breach EU legal limits until at least 2025, when the original deadline to meet these limits was 2010.

And on Wednesday – almost exactly a year since the Supreme Court handed down its last judgement in previous legal action against the government over air pollution – ClientEarth received confirmation that its Judicial Review hearing will take place this summer.

“By granting us permission to return to court the judge has decided that the government does indeed have a case to answer” – James Thornton, ClientEarth

According to the court documents, the case is to be heard “on the first available day after Tuesday 7 June 2016” with a time estimate of two hours and “reading time of four hours to be allowed for the judge before the hearing”.

The papers name Environment Secretary Liz Truss as defendant and also include Scottish and Welsh ministers, the Mayor of London and the Department for Transport as “interested parties”.

It follows a report earlier this week by Parliament’s EFRA committee which called on the government to revise its air quality plan and to also produce a wider plan looking focusing on a range of both indoor and outdoor pollutants by the end of the year (see AirQualityNews.com story).

A spokesperson for Defra said that while it couldn’t comment on legal proceedings, the Department’s plans “clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies will create cleaner, healthier air for all”.

“Our plans clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies will create cleaner, healthier air for all” – Defra

ClientEarth

Chief executive of ClientEarth, James Thornton, said that the decision by the court to grant a hearing later this year was a “victory in itself”.

He said: “The UK government has claimed that it has done everything required by last year’s Supreme Court ruling. By granting us permission to return to court the judge has decided that the government does indeed have a case to answer.”

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews added: “Today’s decision means we will be returning to court to demand that ministers respect our right to breathe clean air. The health evidence is mounting – and as we saw yesterday, MPs from across the political spectrum agree with us that the government is not doing enough.”

NO2 data

News that the Judicial Review will be heard later this year comes as NO2 data for London’s most polluted streets showed that during the first three months of the year levels averaged 133ugm3 (microgrammes per cubic metre). The legal level permitted for the year as a whole is an average of 40ugm3.

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