Environmental law firm ClientEarth has written to the government asking for “urgent answersâ€? over the plan to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in the UK.
Plans to tackle NO2 emissions were published jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for Transport (DfT) last month, setting out the government’s approach to bringing the UK into compliance with EU air quality limits (see airqualitynews.com story).
In particular, the plan identifies over 20 local authorities in England who are required to address air quality locally. The councils have until March 2018 to produce draft plans to outline how they plan to tackle emissions within their area.
Funding is also being provided through a £255 million ‘implementation fund’ from government.
However, ClientEarth, which has led two successful legal challenges against the government over its proposals for tackling air pollution, has asked for clarification on the guidance given to local authorities on how to evaluate the best ways of bringing air pollution down to meet air quality limits ‘as soon as possible’.
The law firm has also claimed that the plan offers little detail on how air quality will be improved in the rest of England. The law firm has called for a response from ministers within 14 days.
ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop, said: “We were extremely disappointed with the plans when they came out. They pass the buck to local authorities and leave some majors questions about process and funding.
“We are worried that ministers may be running away from their responsibility to ensure people across the UK are not breathing illegal levels of air pollution every day. We hope that the government’s answers will finally show a resolve to urgently tackle the UK’s toxic air. Up to now, that has been sadly lacking.â€?
Responding to the comments, a government spokesperson said: “Our plan to deal with dirty diesels will help councils clean up emissions hotspots – often a single road – through common sense measures which do not unfairly penalise ordinary working people. The government will provide £255 million to councils to conduct feasibility studies and develop local plans.
“Overall we are investing £3bn to tackle the effects of roadside pollution and supporting greener transport initiatives.â€?
A formal response to ClientEarth’s letter is also expected to be issued.
Details of the letter have emerged shortly after Bristol city council deferred a decision over the establishment of a clean air zone (see airqualitynews.com story).
The authority, which secured grant funding to carry out a feasibility study on a clean air zone in February, had been due to decide on Tuesday (15 August) whether to carry out further studies on four options evaluated by consultants.
However, the council has now decided that it requires more time to ensure that its proposals align with measures set out in a ‘direction’ issued by government alongside the plan, which dictates how local authorities should approach the options for reducing air pollution in their area.
In a statement, the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said: “We have made a decision to defer the Cabinet report on our initial approach to a feasibility study into a Clean Air Zone for Bristol.
“This is because we need to consider the government’s Air Quality Direction issued just two weeks ago by Defra as part of the new national air quality plan plus further information that highlights some issues in relation to how our options have been formulated. This will give us time to stop, pause, seek guidance from government and do further work on the feasibility study to ensure we have a viable proposal. A further report will be brought back to cabinet once this has been done.â€?
[Updated: 17/08/2017 13:00 with response from government]