Court to force clean up of UK's air pollution

Defra accused of doing nothing to meet looming EU deadline despite 30,000 premature deaths

A A A

The Government faces a Supreme Court action this week demanding that it slash air pollution levels by 2015. Lawyers acting for the environmental charity ClientEarth are making a legal challenge to force the coalition to cut levels of lethal nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to within European Commission limits.

Poor air quality causes the premature deaths of 30,000 people in Britain each year – more than die from alcohol abuse, obesity or in car crashes. London has the dirtiest air of any European capital, with NO2 levels often double the European limit.

Currently 28 zones in Britain will fail to meet legally binding EU limits for "major air pollutants" such as NO2 levels by a 2015 deadline. Instead of trying to bring emissions within the limits, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is hoping to negotiate a later deadline.

An earlier attempt to make the Government comply failed last year when an application for a judicial review of Defra's inaction was rejected.

The Government said at the time that the issue should be settled by the European Commission rather than the UK courts. However, in a move that will embarrass ministers, the EU has come out in support of this week's Supreme Court action, saying in a letter it has "considerable concerns" if governments such as Britain's try to circumnavigate their own legal systems.

The letter to ClientEarth from Jean-François Brakeland, the EC's legal chief, says: "The fact that the Commission has powers to bring its own infringement proceedings against member states… should not mean that individuals cannot plead these obligations before a national court."

Alan Andrews, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: "The Government's plan is, in reality, a plan to do absolutely nothing. It is trying to kick this into the long grass,... while lobbying in Europe to weaken the legal standards. But the commission has quite rightly laid this at the doors of the UK courts. National courts have a responsibility to enforce national laws, even when they come from Brussels."

Since EU guidelines on NO2 came into force in 2010, London has exceeded the limit by a factor of two, both in 2010 and 2011. NO2 can cause difficulty breathing – particularly for people with heart or lung problems – and polluted air reduces average life expectancy in Britain by up to eight months. It is the second biggest public health threat after smoking, and costs £19bn a year.

Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's College London, said: "It's important to meet those limit values because all the medical evidence suggests that where the pollution is higher, the health statistics are worse. There'll be more heart disease, more respiratory problems and more people dying earlier."

James Thomlinson, 27, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and works in central London for a digital marketing business. "When I'm walking in London my breathing gets much tighter," he said. "I get wheezy and end up coughing. When I'm somewhere unpolluted, I hardly cough at all. If I want to live longer, I'll need to move."

Experts met yesterday to discuss London's poor air quality before the Olympics. If the weather warms up, it could cause respiratory problems for athletes.

Introducing more low-emission zones, which exclude heavily polluting diesel-engined vehicles, could help Britain hit the target. But currently there is only one, London's, compared with 54 in Germany.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "A significant part of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants, and air quality has improved considerably in recent decades.

"Our air-quality plans for nitrogen dioxide set out all the important work being done to meet EU standards in the shortest possible time."

Suggested Topics
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam