Defra revising air quality plans ‘to reflect recent action’

Government responds to EU Court ruling in ClientEarth case regarding UK’s continued breach of legal air quality limits

The UK government today (November 19) said it is revising its air quality plans “to reflect recent action so we can be compliant as soon as possible” with EU law on nitrogen dioxide emission levels.

It follows the European Union (CJEU)’s ruling today — its first regarding the EU’s Air Quality Directive 2008 — that the UK government can be ordered by national courts to draw up a plan to meet EU limit values as soon as possible (see story).

The UK government has responded to the EU court ruling in the ClientEarth air quality case today

The UK government has responded to the EU court ruling in the ClientEarth air quality case today

The case was brought by campaign group ClientEarth, which earlier today hailed the CJEU’s judgment for setting “a groundbreaking legal precedent in EU law” (see story).

And, responding to the ruling, a spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that the “judgment confirms where the limits values are exceeded, plans must be developed which ensure compliance in the shortest possible time”, adding that “this has always been the government’s position”.

Under current government plans, the UK is not expected to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones — Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas — until after 2030, which is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.

However, the Defra spokesperson said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and average roadside concentrations of NO2 levels have fallen 15 per cent since 2010. We have built on this by committing £2 billion since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, green transport initiatives and supporting local authorities to take action.

“The government is fully committed to ensuring compliance with EU air quality standards and we are revising our plans to reflect recent action so we can be compliant as soon as possible. This is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.”

Representatives from both Defra and ClientEarth – as well as a number of other industry experts, policy makers and scientists – will be discussing today’s EU court ruling and other air quality issues affecting the UK at‘s National Air Quality Conference in London next week (November 26).

The UK government is also facing separate legal action from the European Commission for breaching the same nitrogen dioxide limit values (see story).

Committee response

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which is currently holding an inquiry in the air quality in the UK, also reacted to the CJEU’s ruling today, describing it as a “welcome intervention” that will “force the government to prioritise the issue of air quality in all decisions on transport policy and infrastructure”.

Chair of the EAC, Joan Walley MP, said the Committee had been “warning the government for the last four years that it must tackle the public health crisis being caused by heavy traffic in our towns and cities”.

She continued: “Instead of taking action to save lives and protect people living or working near busy roads, however, ministers have complacently carried on with business as usual and put off serious efforts to deal with the problem for another decade.

“It is not acceptable for ministers who live in leafy suburbs to tell people living next to busy roads in towns and cities that they have to wait until 2030 to breathe clean air. Children’s development and people’s lives are at risk right now; we need urgent action to get the most polluting vehicles off our streets and get more people walking, cycling and taking public transport.”


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