Defra threatened with further court action by ClientEarth

Government’s draft UK air quality plan ‘isn’t good enough’ and ‘won’t be good enough for the courts’, says ClientEarth

Environmental NGO ClientEarth today (September 14) threatened to once again take legal action against the UK government, claiming that Defra’s draft air quality plan “isn’t good enough” and “won’t be good enough for the courts”.

ClientEarth's Alan Andrews emerges from the Supreme Court following the last ruling handed down in April 2015

ClientEarth’s Alan Andrews emerges from the Supreme Court following the last ruling handed down in April 2015

After a five-year legal battle between ClientEarth and Defra, the UK Supreme Court ruled in April 2015 that the government must “take immediate action” to cut nitrogen dioxide pollution.

As part of the ruling, Defra was ordered to produce a new UK air quality plan before the end of 2015, and a draft of this plan was published for consultation over the weekend.

The plan re-evaluates expected dates for compliance with EU legal air quality limits, bringing these dates sooner in many UK areas, and also sets out plans for a national framework of Clean Air Zones (see story).

But Defra’s plan, on which public views are being sought until the consultation closes in eight weeks’ time on November 6, has attracted criticism from campaign group Clean Air in London and Labour Party shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner.

And today ClientEarth also slammed the new draft plan today as “another list of meaningless assurances and half-measures” and has insisted it will continue to try and force the government to “come up with a lawful plan”.

Clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, Alan Andrews, said: “The Supreme Court ordered [Environment Secretary] Liz Truss to come up with a plan to achieve legal levels of air quality as soon as possible. Instead, even under the government’s own projections, many cities in the UK will still have illegal levels of diesel fumes until 2020 and beyond. In London the problem is even worse – Defra projections say the legal levels of air pollution will not be reached until 2025.

“The plans contain only one new national measure: ‘clean air zones’ which would restrict older vehicles entering the most polluted city centres — but leaving it up to overstretched and underfunded local authorities to implement them. We therefore don’t have any idea if or when these clean air zones will ever materialise.”

Mr Andrews added: “This simply isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough for ClientEarth, it won’t be good enough for the Courts. Most importantly, it isn’t good enough for the tens of thousands of people who this Government is prepared to let die or be made seriously ill by being forced to breathe polluted air.

“We will continue to do everything we can to force the Government to come up with a lawful plan, including returning to Court to force them to think again.”


Responding to ClientEarth’s threat of further court action today, a Defra spokesperson said: “Tackling air pollution is a priority for this government, and we have asked local authorities and members of the public to come forward and share ideas on how to make our nation cleaner.

“From improving bus and taxi fleets, to investing in cycling infrastructure and upgrading roads so they run more smoothly, we want to work with our great cities and help them make changes to become greater still.

“The UK has invested £2 billion in green transport since 2011 and our plans will see us go even further in making our cities into cleaner, healthier environments.”


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