UK faces £300m fine over failure to meet air pollution targets by 2010

European Commission to take legal action against Britain over high levels of dangerous gas

A A A

The UK is facing fines of up to £300m a year over its failure to cut levels of a gas that are believed to cause premature death and affect the growth of children’s lungs.

The European Commission said that it was taking legal action against Britain because it had not come up with a plan to get the amount of nitrogen dioxide – produced mainly by diesel vehicles – below agreed limits.

Campaigners said people had “the right to breathe clean air” and that the UK had some of the highest levels of the gas in Europe.

One expert said attempts to produce cleaner, greener engines appeared to have backfired, leading to an increase in levels of the gas present in the air. It is difficult to assess the full impact of nitrogen dioxide because of its general presence in the air. However, at ground level it is the main cause of ozone, which causes respiratory problems and early death.

Some 29,000 people are known to die prematurely every year from small particles in air pollution, which can cause cancer.

The European Commission said in a statement that governments were supposed to have reduced air pollution to “safe levels” by 2010. An extension was granted for countries “which had a credible and workable plan for meeting air-quality standards within five years of the original deadline” for problem areas, but Britain has failed.

Exhaust fumes from a car in London Exhaust fumes from a car in London (Getty Images) “The UK has not presented any such plan for the zones in question. The Commission is therefore of the opinion that the UK is in breach of its obligations under the directive,” it said.

A “letter of formal notice” of the EC’s intention to take legal action has been sent to the Government, which has two months to respond.

The Supreme Court said last year that air-pollution limits were regularly exceeded in 16 zones across the UK.

It is estimated that most of these zones should hit the target by 2020, but London will only meet the EU standards by 2025, 15-years late.

Nitrogen oxides, including nitrogen dioxide, are produced by road vehicles, shipping, power stations, industry and homes. They cause acid rain, which damages plant and animal life in forests, lakes and rivers, and harms buildings.

The campaign group ClientEarth, which brought last year’s case at the Supreme Court, said poor air quality could cause heart attacks and children living near busy roads in the UK had been shown to grow up with underdeveloped lungs.

“We have the right to breathe clean air and the Government has a legal duty to protect us from air pollution,” James Thornton, ClientEarth’s chief executive, said. “If [Environment Secretary] Owen Paterson wants to avoid another disaster for his department he will need an ambitious plan to protect people from deadly diesel fumes. We need a national network of low emission zones to save lives and make the UK a world leader in clean transport.”

Fumes from a coal-fired power station Fumes from a coal-fired power station (Getty Images) Dr Ben Barratt, a lecturer in air quality at King’s College London, said air quality in the UK was “not good enough”.

He said: “The quality of air in the UK is certainly not as bad as it is in places like Beijing or other parts of China – that’s really in a different league – but poor air quality is having an effect on all of our health, particularly in people who are sensitive to air pollution, such as the young whose lungs are still developing and the old and people with respiratory or cardiovascular problems. There’s no doubt our air quality is causing harm to those people and, in some cases, even ending their lives.”

He added that “some technology introduced to try to make engines clear has actually made the burden of nitrogen dioxide worse”.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that air quality had “improved significantly in recent decades”.

“Just like for other member states, meeting the nitrogen dioxide limit values alongside busy roads has been a challenge,” he said. “ That is why we are investing heavily in transport measures to improve air quality around busy roads and we are working with the commission to ensure this happens as soon as possible.”

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine