Defra due in court over air quality clash

Government to defend ruling preventing it from having to publish revised air quality plans after admitting illegal pollution levels, writes Will Date.

Claims by an environmental group that the government should publish a new strategy to combat ‘illegal’ levels of pollution will be heard at the Court of Appeal tomorrow (May 30).

Representatives from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will defend a High Court decision which ruled that the government was not required to publish new air quality plans.

The ruling in December did however see government lawyer’s conceding, on behalf of Secretary of State for the Environment Caroline Spelman, that the UK was above the pollution limit set by the European Union. However, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Mitting, ruled that further action was a matter for the European Commission.

The Court of Appeal has agreed that the case should be re-examined, after requests by campaign group ClientEarth.

The group has accused the government of failing to protect the public from high levels of air pollution, describing the case as a ‘national disgrace’.


James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, said: “The government is failing to act to tackle Britain’s air pollution crisis — by its own admission the UK won’t meet legal air quality standards until 2025. That’s why we are asking the court to step in.  We need a clear and credible plan to clean up the vehicles that are choking Britain’s roads.

“While people are dying, the government is fighting against its legal responsibilities in the courts and lobbying to weaken the laws which are in place to protect our health. Two months before the Olympics, this is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

The case was originally brought about as ClientEarth had claimed that air quality plans for 17 regions and cities would not comply with legal limits for air quality until after 2015, despite the deadline for achieving the limits passing on 1 January 2010.

The group wants the government to draw up plans to enable the UK to meet the 2015 target.

A ruling from Court of Appeal is expected at a later date.

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