Ministers must order Highways England toxic air plan, warns ClientEarth

Highways England’s measures to tackle air pollution on its roads is unlawful, and the government must order the body in charge of the UK’s strategic road network to come up with a ‘concrete, time-bound’ plan as soon as possible, warns environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

ClientEarth says the government’s latest directives towards local authorities, which includes the implementation of different classes of Clean Air Zones (CAZs), has ‘dumped the problem’ on local authorities, resulting in missed deadlines and a patchwork of measures.

Highways England is responsible for operating 1865 miles of motorway and 2571 miles of major A roads in England. These carry four times as many vehicles per day per mile than local authority-managed roads.

However, the government only measures air pollution on a handful of roads managed by Highways England, with over a third having illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Following ClientEarth’s previously successful legal cases, the government has a legal obligation to reduce pollution on these roads to within legal limits in ‘the shortest possible time.’

But in their letter to the government, they say that Highways England has not yet set out how they plan to cut air pollution on the road network.

They also called on the government’s upcoming Environment Bill to include a duty for all public bodies to act on air pollution, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Katie Nield said: ‘Thousands of people across the country are breathing toxic air which is making them sick. Children are particularly vulnerable. Illegal levels of pollution from traffic on major roads are a part of the problem, so it’s hard to understand why ministers are trying to shirk their legal and moral responsibility to do something about it.’

‘The government has not compensated for this carve out by requiring action from Highways England, meaning we’ve got this huge blind spot in the government’s strategy.

A Highways England spokesperson told AirQualityNews they were aware of the ClientEarth letter and are committed to investing their £75m air quality fund, which they must spend before 2020.

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