Bolder action needed on air pollution

Environmental law firm Client Earth has taken the Government to court this week over its failure to sufficiently tackle illegal levels of air pollution in the UK.

“Air quality in this country is nothing short of a public health crisis,” said the firm’s chief executive James Thornton ahead of the two day hearing in the High Court, which concludes today.

Client Earth previously won a case against Government in the Supreme Court last year, which ruled that it must come up with plans to combat air pollution ‘as soon as possible’.

However measures set out in December – including plans to introduce new Clean Air Zones – are said by the firm to be “vague” and unlikely to secure compliance until at least 2025.

James Thornton said: “Defra’s latest figures estimate there are 40,000 early deaths across the UK every year because of air pollution. The Government must come up with far bolder measures, ready to face this issue head on.” 

A Government spokesman said: “We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”

But he added: “The Government is firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions. That's why we have committed more than £2Bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles, support greener transport schemes and set out a national plan to tackle pollution in our towns and cities.”

However the Campaign for Better Transport’s sustainable transport campaigner Bridget Fox commented: “It’s clear that the Government's rhetoric on tackling lethal and illegal levels of air pollution is still not matched by action. That’s why this court case is crucial.”

She called for a new Clean Air Act and said Government must rewrite its Air Quality Strategy immediately, commit to removing the most polluting vehicles from the roads as soon as possible and set up a national network of Clean Air Zones.

A verdict on the current case is expected to come within weeks.

Meanwhile Government launched a consultation on its Clean Air Zone framework last Thursday which looks to help local authorities reduce pollution from vehicles in city centres.

These zones could involve charges for the most polluting vehicles as well as incentives to switch to ultra low emission vehicles, including priority at bus lanes and traffic lights. 

Government says these zones will be required in five cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton – by 2020, adding that all local authorities can introduce Clean Air Zones should they wish to do so.