Fiscal proposals to discourage the use of diesel vehicles in Defra’s original Air Quality Plan were blocked by the Treasury, legal firm ClientEarth has claimed in a High Court hearing today (18 October).
Officials at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) had also considered mandatory low-emission zones for 16 cities around London – but these plans were scaled back to just five cities, the legal firm has said.
Documents which appear to indicate how Defra reached its final Air Quality Plan in December 2015, were disclosed on the first day of ClientEarth’s High Court hearing today.
The legal NGO has brought a second challenge against the government as part of its bid for Defra to re-draft plans to meet NO2 emissions limits set by the EU.
The government produced a revised Air Quality Plan as a result of ClientEarth’s first challenge in the Supreme Court, but the NGO claims that ‘minimum’ steps were taken in order to avoid enforcement by the EU and to comply with its Directive by 2020.
ClientEarth notes that in its disclosure, Defra’s initial idea for a new Air Quality Plan in May 2015 was to include ‘wider LEZ use in around 16 cities around London rather than six, and a package of wider national measures to tackle issues outside city centres […such as] scrappage or tax measures’ – such as reform of the Vehicle Excise Duty.
But, according to the documents, an inter-departmental review of Defra’s proposed plan – coupled with the Treasury’s Spending Review carried out between October and November 2015 – meant its recommendations were ‘rejected’.
The papers suggest that the Treasury had agreed with Defra in October 2015 that its preferred option for air quality ‘provides a package we would be confident would meet the ‘credibility’ criteria and at the least cost to business’.
However, ClientEarth suggests that the Treasury had disputed the “high costâ€? of the plan “at a time of significant affordability constraintsâ€? concluding “it is not the minimum needed to secure complianceâ€?.
ClientEarth notes in its skeleton argument: “Defra’s proposal did not include any “mandatory measuresâ€? to be implemented by central government – rather it was hoped that local authorities would voluntarily introduce CAZs.â€?
The hearing continues tomorrow when Defra will defend its air pollution strategy.