Government ‘ignoring’ Supreme Court air quality ruling

As Defra consults on draft UK air quality plan, ClientEarth claims other government departments are not taking necessary action to cut pollution

The organisation which took legal action against the UK over air pollution claims that several government departments are “ignoring” the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The UK Supreme Court's final judgement in ClientEarth's case against the UK government was handed down on April 29 2015 (Photo - UK Supreme Court)

The UK Supreme Court’s final judgement in ClientEarth’s case against the UK government was handed down on April 29 2015 (Photo – UK Supreme Court)

According to ClientEarth, major decisions by various government departments since the Conservative Party came to power have been made without any reference to the April 2015 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the new government “should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action” to address nitrogen dioxide pollution.

The environmental NGO’s claims, based on Freedom of Information requests to several government departments, follows the release on Saturday (September 12) of Defra’s draft UK air quality plan for public consultation (see story).

Drafting of the new document was ordered by the Supreme Court in April 2015 after ClientEarth took action against the government over the UK’s failure to meet EU air quality limits for nitrogen dioxide.

ClientEarth said at the weekend that it would be analysing Defra’s air quality plans “very closely in the coming weeks to see if the government I really doing everything it can to cut pollution and save people’s lives”, adding that “if not we won’t hesitate to go back to court”.

But the NGO now claims that other government departments are not taking the Supreme Court ruling on air quality seriously enough in their decision making since April 2015.

Government departments

Responding to a ClientEarth request in July, the Department for Transport revealed that it had made “no additional assessment of the impact on ambient air quality” in its decision to pause plans to electrify two rail routes in Greater Manchester.

Client Earth said this meant diesel trains would continue to run on routes in and out of major cities such as Manchester and Leeds.

Similarly, the group criticised the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for not carrying out any assessment of the impact on air quality before deciding to cease further investment in the Green Deal Finance Company, which helped homeowners to make homes more energy efficient.

However, ClientEarth said it was still awaiting a response from the Treasury as to whether it had considered air quality before announcing changes to Vehicle Excise Duty to charge based on CO2 emissions in the Chancellor’s Summer Budget (see story).

Alan Andrews, clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, said:

“This reveals a worrying disregard for the decision of the Supreme Court and a shocking lack of joined-up thinking in government. At least 29,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution in the UK. Every government department has a responsibility to protect human health by complying with air quality limits.

“These announcements could make it harder to achieve those limits, but the departments haven’t given any consideration to the impacts on air quality.”

Clean Air in London

Responding to the government’s consultation announcement on Saturday, Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett said Defra had “buried” the consultation launch “minutes before the Corbyn announcement” — referring to Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader.

And, he also criticised the draft air quality plan for passing “all responsibility, without money or new powers, to local authorities”.

In doing so, Mr Birkett said, Defra is “flouting the Supreme Court ruling and provoking the European Commission”, emphasising his hope that ClientEarth rejects the “plan for a plan by others” and returns quickly to the Supreme Court.

The eight-week consultation launched on Saturday closes on November 6 2015 and is a necessary step for Defra before the UK lodges its formal plans to meet NO2 limits with the European Commission by the deadline set by the UK Supreme Court of December 31 2015.


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