Tories ignore clean air rules - despite 29,000 deaths from pollution each year

Tax breaks for low-polluting cars are in a muddle and household energy efficiency schemes have been dropped

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The Independent Online

Fears that the Government is weakening its commitment to the environment have been heightened after it emerged that at least two Whitehall departments have admitted ignoring a Supreme Court ruling on clean air.

Just over a week before the election, the Supreme Court ruled that the new government must take steps to tackle air pollution – which contributes to 29,000 deaths a year in the UK – by carrying out rigorous assessments on the impact of policy decisions on air quality.

Yet requests for information by the environmental law firm Client-Earth reveal that the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have failed to take the court ruling into account when drawing up policies and legislation.

The Supreme Court stated on 29 April that “the new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue”. The judgment also ordered the then (and now current) Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, to prepare new air quality plans to bring air quality within legal limits in the shortest time possible.

 

However, the information requests reveal that the DfT made no assessment of the impact on air quality before announcing the “pause” of the electrification of two major rail routes shortly after the election. The pause means diesel trains will continue to run on routes in and out of major cities like Leeds and Manchester. In a letter to ClientEarth, the DfT said that because the decision was a “pause, not a stop”, “no additional assessment of the impact on ambient air quality has been undertaken by the department”.

On a second major decision, the announcement of a new vehicle excise-duty banding system that cuts tax breaks for low-polluting cars, the DfT said it had “not produced any assessment of the announced VED changes on air quality”.

The Government also quietly scrapped funding for the Green Deal Finance Company (GDFC) – which enables people to make their homes more energy efficient – just as the Commons rose for the summer recess, preventing detailed scrutiny of the plans by MPs. In a letter to ClientEarth, DECC said it had “not carried out any assessment on the impact on air quality of the decision not to invest further in the GDFC”.

 Alan Andrews, a 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.”

It is understood that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will produce a consultation document on new air- quality plans required by the Supreme Court ruling in the next few weeks.

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