Air quality ruling

Rebecca Gibbs's picture

This week the High Court found the government's action on air quality to be inadequate.  In the second successful case against the government in two years brought by the legal charity Client Earth, the Judge ruled that Defra had failed to take sufficient action to comply with the Supreme Court and EU law. 

The first case in April 2015 saw the Supreme Court order the government to develop a plan for air quality that would bring air pollution within the law 'as soon as possible'.  Client Earth, unhappy with the resulting 2015 Air Quality Plan, fought this week's case to push the government to improve its performance.  The residing judge, Mr Justice Garnham, said that the ministers knew that air quality plans were based on over optimistic modelling. 

Air quality is a significant but hidden public health problem.  Smogs in London in the 1950s (one of which is estimated to have killed 12,000 people) led to the The Clean Air Act (1956).  Sixty years later dirty air is still plaguing health at an estimated cost of 40,000 deaths per year in the UK (see RCP and RPCH report: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution). 

Diesel-fuelled transport is one of the key contributors to poor urban air quality.  The health and environment cobenefit of active travel offers us a natty way to make a great leap forward on this intractable problem but serious progress will need policy that spands a range of Whitehall departments.  Central London now boasts segregated cycle lanes on some roads, something that seemed unimaginable even ten years ago.  So while this is piecemeal it suggests that radical shifts are possible.  Fingers crossed for a courageous and wide-reaching government response to the ruling.

The full legal judgement is available on Client Earth's website at: http://www.documents.clientearth.org/library/download-info/high-court-ruling-on-clientearth-no-2-vs-ssefra-uk-air-pollution-plans/

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