The Supreme Court has ordered the government to take 'immediate' action to stop the UK's illegal and dangerous air pollution levels

Order could see dramatic expansion of congestion charging and low emissions zones

Jon Stone
Wednesday 29 April 2015 12:35 BST
Heavy traffic on the M25 near the Dartford Crossing on Good Friday today
Heavy traffic on the M25 near the Dartford Crossing on Good Friday today (REX/London News Pictures)

The Supreme Court has ordered the Government to take immediate action to bring UK air pollution within safe legal limits.

The court says rules on nitrogen dioxide limits put in place “for the protection of human health” are being routinely breached and that the Government’s current plan does not address the problems.

The order could see new restrictions put on diesel vehicles, the biggest contributor to the deadly pollution.

In its judgement, the court said: “The Supreme Court unanimously orders that the government must submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015”.

The Supreme Court however a recent European court judgment had left UK judges “in no doubt as the seriousness of the breach, which has been continuing for more than five years, nor as to the responsibility on the national court to secure compliance”.

The government submitted plans to the European Commission in 2011, which the government argued were adequate.

However, justices said prospects of early compliance with limits had “become worse” and that “the new government should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action”.

The judgment comes in the middle of a general election campaign in which discussion of environmental issues has been almost entirely absent.

The case against the government as bought by the environmental law group ClientEarth.

In a statement, the group called for the next government to look at low emissions zones and expanded congestion charging among measures to bring pollution levels down.

“Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the Supreme Court has upheld that right,” ClientEarth Lawyer Alan Andrews said.

“This ruling will benefit everyone’s health but particularly children, older people and those with existing health conditions like asthma and heart and lung conditions.

“The next Government, regardless of the political party or parties which take power, is now legally bound to take urgent action on this public health crisis. Before next week’s election all political parties need to make a clear commitment to policies which will deliver clean air and protect our health.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Food, Environment, and Rural Affairs said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.”

Air pollution contributes to 29,000 deaths a year in Britain, including one in 12 deaths in London.

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