A High Court judge has ordered that a hearing on the latest legal case against the governmentâ€™s air quality plan will be heard before 23 February 2018.
The case is the third to be brought by the environmental law charity ClientEarth which has led successful campaigns against the government over its air quality plans to bring the country into compliance with EU limits on nitrogen dioxide.
This led to the launch of a renewed air quality plan in July, which named 29 local authority areas where local plans will be needed to address air pollution by spring 2018.
However, according to ClientEarth, the latest version of the plan â€œfalls far short of what is needed to bring air pollution to within legal limits as soon as possibleâ€.
ClientEarth has claimed that the latest plan backtracks on previous commitments to order five cities to introduce â€˜clean air zonesâ€™ by 2020, and does not require any action in 45 local authorities in England, despite them having NO2 levels that breach EU limits.
The plan does not require any action by Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible, ClientEarth has added.
ClientEarth has named the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Transport Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs in the Welsh Government as defendants.
The legal charity is seeking a court order which will force the government to take additional actions to rectify the flaws in the current air quality plan, with a clear timetable for consultation and implementation of those measures and estimates of their effect on air quality. The current plan would remain in force to avoid any delay in its implementation.
Mr Justice Nicklin has expedited the case, which will be heard before the end of February.
Commenting on the actionClientEarth chief executive James Thorntonâ€œWeâ€™re not surprised that the judge has ruled that the government has a case to answer here. The current plans are too weak and too vague and mean that we will still be choking on illegal levels of pollution for years to come.
â€œThe governmentâ€™s persistent failure to deal with air pollution in this country is nothing short of a scandal.â€
He added: â€œThe government has identified at least 80 local authorities with illegal and harmful levels of air pollution but more than half of them are not being required to take action.
â€œWe have made progress with the government, which before we started our legal case was doing nothing, but air pollution has a serious effect on peopleâ€™s health, the environment and the economy and more must be done.
â€œThe solutions to this problem are obvious. We need a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted towns and cities alongside action to help people switch to cleaner transport. The government must finally show leadership and commit to taking action.â€
Responding to the comments today, a Defra spokesperson said: â€œAir pollution has improved significantly since 2010, but we recognise there is more to do which is why we have put in place a Â£3.5billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions.
“We will also end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, and next year we will publish a comprehensive clean air strategy which will set out further steps to tackle air pollution.â€