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Judgement day in latest NO2 plan hearing

Ministers will learn today if they will be required to force more councils into action to address air pollution, with a judgement on the government’s air quality plan due this morning (21 February).

Mr Justice Garnham is expected to deliver a ruling on the government’s 2017 air quality plan, after legal campaign group ClientEarth claimed that the government’s proposals to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide emissions “fell far short of what is needed”.

The latest hearing against the government’s air quality plan took place in the High Court in January

ClientEarth has led two successful campaigns against previous versions of the government’s air quality plans to bring the UK into compliance with EU legal limits, which have been exceeded in locations across the country since 2010.

The latest plan identifies 23 local authority areas where breaches of the legal limits are expected beyond 2021, and places a requirement on these authorities to identify and implement measures which would bring them into compliance with the limit.

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At a High Court hearing in late January, ClientEarth argued that the plan falls short as it does not force any action in 45 local authority areas in England which are acknowledged as having illegal NO2 levels according to Defra’s own modelling.

These include towns and cities such as Portsmouth, Leicester, Bradford, Bournemouth, Plymouth and Liverpool, all of which have exceeded the 40µg/m3 NO2 limit value to date.

Government projections suggest that 12 of these authorities will come into compliance by the end of this year, followed by a further 10 by the end of 2019, 13 by the end of 2020, and a further 10 reaching compliance by 2021.

ClientEarth argued that these councils should be required to follow the same steps as the 23 named within the plan.

However, during the hearing Defra told the court that due to the length of time it would take for these councils to identify and implement suitable measures to comply with the air quality limits, they are forecast to fall below the legal limits, and therefore additional measures would not speed-up compliance.

A hearing has been scheduled for this morning, at which Mr Justice Garnham is expected to deliver his ruling on the case.

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