UK faces new legal action over air quality

Image: Walkers view The Shard skyscraper from Primrose Hill as high air pollution obscures the skyline over London April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville


LONDON (Reuters) – New legal proceedings have been launched against the Brit’sh government by environmental law firm ClientEarth over what it’says is a failure to tackle air pollution, the firm said on Friday.

ClientEarth has taken action against the government before, which resulted in a Supreme Court judgment last year ordering it to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission.

But ClientEarth says those plans do not go far enough to tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions and has lodged papers at the High Court to seek an order to quash them and order new ones.

“Our plans clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new program of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies will create cleaner, healthier air for all,” a Department for Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said in response.

Last year the European Commission also began 21 infringement proceedings against EU member nations in breach of existing rules and has proposed more stringent legislation in the face of resistance from some governments.

Nitrogen oxides reduce air quality and member states have been flouting EU limits on a range of pollutants associated with more than 400,000 premature deaths per year, according to European Commission data.

Under the EU’s Air Quality Directive, member states were supposed to comply with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits in 2010, but could have extended that to 2015 if they delivered plans to deal with high levels of the gas, which is produced mainly by diesel engines and causes respiratory illnesses.

UK government data last year showed only five out of a total 43 pollution zones in Britain would comply by the end of 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 by 2030.

The remaining three zones – Greater London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas would not even comply by 2030, the data showed.

Under plans submitted to the European Commission in December, “Clean Air Zones” would be introduced in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton where pollution is most serious by 2020.

Vehicles such as old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries have to pay a charge to enter these zones but private passenger cars would not be charged.

“The government’s plans were an insult to those being made sick and dying from air pollution and failed to consider strong measures to get the worst polluting diesel vehicles out of our town and city centers,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.



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