Court ruling paves way for stronger air quality measures

The government has lost a High Court case on its failure to improve air quality in the UK as soon as possible, paving the way for stronger measures to tackle emissions - particularly from diesel vehicles.

It is the second time the UK has lost a high-profile court case on its air quality plans. Environmental law firm, ClientEarth, initially took the government to the Supreme Court over its failure to make good progress on air pollution.

In 2014 it was revealed that many urban areas, including Greater Manchester, Merseyside and much of Lancashire, would be unlikely to comply with legal air pollution limits before 2020 - five years later than stipulated by the EU.

Air pollution kills thousands of people in the UK every year. 

Diesel vehicles

The 2015 Supreme Court ruling forced ministers to submit stricter air pollution plans that would bring air pollution down to legal levels as quickly as possible. 

The resulting plans focus mainly on vehicles, which are responsible for around 80 per cent of damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the areas exceeding legal limits.

A proposed Clean Air Zones framework would set unified emissions standards for vehicles in selected urban areas across the country. Those not meeting the standard would be subject to a charge or restricted access.

Diesel vehicles are the biggest polluters and are therefore most likely to be affected.

In August 2016, Greater Manchester launched its own air quality strategy, which sets out plans to provide more local support for electric vehicles and “investigate the feasibility” of a Clean Air Zone in the city. 

New ruling

However, ClientEarth again took the government to court over a perceived lack of urgency from ministers. 

A High Court judge has now ruled in favour of ClientEarth, agreeing that the government is failing to take measures “as soon as possible” and that over-optimistic pollution modelling was being used. 

Commenting on the result, Alan Andrews, air quality lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “We need a national network of clean air zones to be in place by 2018 in cities across the UK, not just in a handful of cities.”

The decision means that measures to reduce air pollution may now be strengthened and fast-tracked in the coming years, including moves to incentivise the move away from diesel vehicles. 

Government grants are now available for larger electric vans and trucks, as well as smaller vehicles. 

Posted under Environmental Regulations and Legislation and Public / Government / Charity on 14 November 2016