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High Court discussions continue over air quality

Discussions over the impact of the High Court ruling on 2 November that the government’s air quality plan fails to meet EU requirements were continuing today ahead of a deadline for the parties involved to submit proposals to the court.

While in his ruling, Mr Justice Garnham effectively suggested that the current plan might be quashed and rewritten, it is thought that both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and environment legal group ClientEarth are in some form of discussions. This could potentially see some changes suggested to the plan rather than it being torn up and rewritten.

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Dr Cooper explained some of the thinking behind clean air zones which feature in the governments plan to improve air quality (source: Defra)

And, ClientEarth has also highlighted the fact that the UK will be leaving the EU and that could mean the government would not have to meet the EU requirements, if the idea of Air Quality Plans, enshrined in EU law, was not transposed into UK law post-Brexit.

The latest development come as speakers highlighted the importance of air quality and policy measures at the National Air Quality Conference in London yesterday (10 November).

Evidence

Defra’s Dr James Cooper from the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit explained that the Judicial Review ruling had found that there was insufficient evidence that the national air quality plan would deliver what was needed in the shortest time possible.

He highlighted the fact that government had active to create the joint air quality unit and that the plan was aimed to be “scaleable and flexibleâ€?.

It contained, Dr Cooper noted, a “blend of targeted and broader action with clean air zones to deliver concerted actionâ€?.  Also included were measures to encourage faster transition to a low emission fleet and support for alternative transport modes.

He explained how various measures would integrate into the Clean Air Zone plans. At a minimum, these would be in response to a defined air quality problem.

Health impacts

Following on from Dr Cooper, the health impacts of poor air quality were emphasised to delegates at the conference. Dr Sani Dimitroulopoulou, Senior Environmental Scientist, Environmental Change Department at Public Health England.

She explained the need for air pollution and climate change to be treated together as both impacted on public health. One of the strongest statistics she noted was a study which found that between 2010 and 2013 as much as 5.9% of deaths could be attributable to particular air pollution (PM2.5) in Birmingham.

She also noted that NICE public health guidelines exist for: physical activity; walking and cycling; and excess winter deaths and illness and the health risks associated with cold homes, had all been published. Under development is: Outdoor air pollution, expected in 2017. Future work includes: Indoor air quality, 2018.

Member States

The conference then heard from Alan Andrews of ClientEarth who explained to the conference the need for the government to act and come back on its plan as requested by the High Court. He also noted that the organisation was also in the process of legal action over air quality levels in some other EU member states.

And, he said he looked forward to the day when ClientEarth was able to look beyond court actions and that policy developments were being properly implemented to improve air quality.

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