The campaign group which led the legal challenge against the government over its plan to address air pollution has described the latest proposals for tackling nitrogen dioxide emissions as ‘underwhelming’.
Proposals drawn up jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) alongside the Department for Transport (DfT) were published this afternoon after the High Court had ordered the publication of the plan by next Monday (31 July).
This represents the third set of measures put forward by government to tackle the UK’s NO2 emissions, with two previous versions of the plan having been ordered back to the drawing board following legal challenge by the environmental campaign group ClientEarth in 2015 and 2016.
ClientEarth also took Defra to court last month over its latest draft version of the plan, which it described as ‘wholly inadequate’ to meet the UK’s legal requirements.
This challenge was dismissed by the High Court, although the Judge presiding over the case, Mr Justice Garnham, did warn that the final proposals could be open to challenge if they are deemed not to be sufficient to bring air pollutant emissions into compliance with legal limits.
The plan published today indicates that local authorities will have until December 2018 to produce local plans for tackling air pollution in their localities. This will be backed by funding from central government.
Commenting on the proposals, ClientEarth chief executive, James Thornton described the policy paper as “underwhelming and lacking in urgencyâ€?.
He said: “This plan is, yet again, a plan for more plans. The government is passing the buck to local authorities to come up with their own schemes as an alternative to clean air zones which charge the most polluting vehicles to enter our towns and cities. Yet Defra’s own evidence shows that charging clean air zones would be the swiftest way to tackle illegal levels of pollution.
“We are still looking at December 2018 before local authorities need to come up with their proposals but we have no idea when those plans would then be put in place or whether they’d be effective. The court ordered action by the UK to obey its own laws as soon as possible. This plan kicks the can down the road yet again.â€?
During the hearing last month, ClientEarth had also argued that the draft plan had failed to identify measures to tackle air pollution in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The organisation repeated its claim today, as well as criticising one of the government’s headline policies within the plan – a proposed end to the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
Mr Thornton, said: “There’s also still too little attention paid to the devolved nations, where people also have the right to breathe better, healthier air.
“The 2040 diesel and petrol ban, while important, is a diversionary tactic and doesn’t deal with the public health emergency caused by illegally polluted air, now.â€?