Government fights Europe over air pollution reduction

Air pollution is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK at an average loss of life of 11.5 years


The Government will argue in the Supreme Court this week that it has no obligation to reduce Britain’s harmful levels of air pollution within the time limits set by Europe.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels are dangerously high in 16 regions of Britain, exceeding the EU limit which member nations were supposed to have complied with by 2010. Britain is the only nation not to apply for a time extension having failed to meet its 2010 deadline, because the Coalition has decided to fight European air regulations in court while lobbying to have them weakened.

The case comes just weeks after a World Health Organisation review found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide is harmful at even lower levels than the limits currently set by Europe.

Air pollution is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK at an average loss of life of 11.5 years. Nitrogen dioxide is one of the pollutants known to contribute to this figure, with links to conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

London has the highest recorded level of NO2 of any capital city in Europe. Mean levels of the toxic gas are not supposed to exceed 40 cubic micrograms over a calendar year, but some of London’s busiest roads are routinely at triple this level.

The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs will argue on Thursday that it is not possible to comply with European limits by 2015, so there was no point asking for an extension to the 2010 deadline. Instead they have made plans that mean most regions (including Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow) will not achieve legal limits for NO2 until 2020, and in the case of London, 2025.

Alan Andrews, lawyer at Client Earth, the campaigning law firm which has brought the lawsuit said: “The science is getting stronger, but the Government’s response is as weak as ever. We know that the higher the levels of nitrogen dioxide, the more people die, and the more people are made sick. So the fact that the Government’s plans won’t achieve compliance with air quality standards until 2025 is nothing short of a disgrace.”

“This Government thinks that laws that are in place to save lives are “red tape”. That’s why they are refusing to act to tackle air pollution, while at the same time lobbying the EU to get the laws weakened. They are on the wrong side of the science, and  they are on the wrong side of the law. We need the Supreme Court to step in and force the Government to live up to its legal and moral duty to protect us from air pollution” 

Last year the Court of Appeal refused to force Defra to obey EU law and the issue was passed up to the Supreme Court. Though the Court of Appeal said enforcement of the law was up the European Commission, the commission says it has “considerable concerns” about any attempts to circumnavigate their deadlines using a technicality that Defra is expected to argue in court.

Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, said: “There’s a public health problem here and the Government need to take responsibility. It’s not good enough to say that we can wait to 2025.”

A spokeswoman said Defra plans to reduce NO2 levels in the “shortest possible time,” adding: “Our air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and most of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.”

Case studies: 'I can't go down the road now because it's too polluted'

Francis Davidson, 69, lives in North London and believes her health has been directly affected by levels of air pollution there.

“I live just off the Holloway Road, which has to be one of the worst polluted parts of London - there are lorries coming by all the time. My lung collapses regularly and I can’t go down the road now because it’s too polluted. I can’t breathe when I go out and I have to time it carefully for times when there’s less traffic, like one o’clock in the afternoon.

Unless they do something about it we’re all going to get terrible lung diseases. Children are coughing their heads off and I don’t understand why nothing’s being done. I remember the smog in the Fifties which made them pass the clean air act, because it was obvious fires were making people really sick. They need another clean air act now because the air is not clean anymore.”

Fiona Dawson, 35, from East London is concerned that her eldest daughter, Maya, 3, suffers from asthma symptoms because of pollution.

“I’ve become more aware of air pollution since my daughter has had chest problems. She had her first wheezy episode a year ago and it was really frightening. We’ve been back and forth at the doctors’ and hospitals since then. The doctor said ‘ah yes, we’ve had a lot of people coming in with similar conditions because of the weather and the rise in air pollution’. It makes me very angry that more isn’t being done. Maya will be 16 in 2025 - that’s a whole generation exposed to this and the Government just don’t seem to care at all.”

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment