ClientEarth urges councils to heed High Court air quality ruling

Local authorities have been advised by ClientEarth to apply a legal test when drawing up local measures to tackle roadside air pollution.

Such an approach, claimed the environmental law charity, would help councils to ensure they are compliant with a recent High Court ruling on air quality.

The controversial recommendation came from Andrea Lee, healthy air campaigner at ClientEarth, who was speaking during the Institute of Air Quality Management’s ‘Routes to Clean’ Air conference, in Birmingham yesterday (25 October).

The High Court ordered Defra to produce a final Air Quality Plan in November 2016

Ms Lee offered a summary of ClientEarth’s legal challenges against Defra since 2011, which resulted in a refreshed national plan being put forward by government in July. This was after an order by the High Court in November 2016 (see story). The latest version of the plan mandates 28 local authorities to draw up proposals by the end of 2018 to tackle air pollution locally.

Within the plan, clean air zones — where older, polluting vehicles could be charged to travel — are identified as being among the most effective measures for tackling air pollution. However, the plan states that local authorities must explore whether other options could have the same or greater impact before they can be implemented.


ClientEarth has claimed that the proposals do not go far enough to tackle air pollution nationwide, given that some local authority areas where exceedences of air pollution limits have been monitored are not addressed, and due to the failure to mandate clean air zones.

The organisation has indicated that it may seek to pursue further legal action if further measures are not brought forward (see story).

In her presentation to the conference, Ms Lee outlined ClientEarth’s view on the latest version of the air quality plan, which she described as ‘flawed’ and called for local authorities to apply the judgement from the 2016 legal challenge when drawing up their proposals.

She said: “The judgement was particularly useful, because it spelt out what the improved plan had to do.

“Firstly it has to show exactly how the limit values can be met. Secondly it has to take the route that reduces people’s exposure as quickly as possible. Finally, it has to ensure that compliance is not just ‘possible’, but ‘likely’.”


On the requirements for local authorities to draw up plans that meet the requirements set out in the judgement, she added: “These plans will have to meet the ClientEarth test which was spelt out in the High Court judgement. We would be happy to talk to any local authority about this if they are not sure about what implications this has.”

Questioned as to whether ClientEarth could seek to challenge individual local authorities on their plans, she said: “There’s a legal requirement, and the law is very clear that these plans are produced to meet their legal test, and if they don’t meet that legal test then they are open to challenge.”

However, responding to the comment, IAQM chair Claire Holman warned that the threat of a legal challenge could provoke caution among local authorities, noting: “The Secretary of State has to approve those plans, so ultimately it is the Secretary of State who is responsible.”

Leeds is among the areas planning a clean air zone

Ms Lee, claimed that ClientEarth is ‘definitely not looking to take local authorities to court’, but said that the organisation is “keen that these plans are put in place and that they do deliver”.


Earlier in the session, Polly Cook, executive programme manager at Leeds city council, gave an insight into ongoing work to establish a clean air zone within the West Yorkshire city.

She noted that Leeds is likely to be the first local authority to bring forward firm plans for a clean air zone in England, having originally been charged with doing so in an earlier version of the government’s air quality plan, published in 2015.


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