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UK Supreme Court orders Government to submit new plan to meet European air pollution limits

Sustrans describe failure to comply with nitrogen dioxide limits “a travesty and a national embarrassment”

The UK Supreme Court has announced its judgment in ClientEarth’s case against the Government for the latter’s failure to meet legal limits of air pollution. The court has ordered the Government to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission by no later than 31 December 2015.

Since 2010 the UK has failed to secure compliance with the limits for nitrogen dioxide levels set by European law in certain zones. Nitrogen dioxide is a gas formed by combustion at high temperatures which, when concentrated above a certain level, poses a risk to human health. Major sources of nitrogen dioxide include road traffic and domestic heating.

The EU’s Air Quality Directive sets limits for the level of various pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, and sets corresponding margins of tolerance and time limits for compliance. In 2010, limits had been exceeded in 40 of 43 UK zones and while plans were made for 24 zones, the Secretary of State indicated that the limits relating to the other 16 could not be met by 1 January 2015.

ClientEarth, a member of the Healthy Air Campaign, therefore brought its case in the High Court in 2011, challenging the government’s proposals to address harmful levels. It argued that the government’s plans should be overturned as unlawful and a new plan put in place. The UK Supreme Court has backed this view and ordered the Government to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission by no later than 31 December 2015.

Claire Francis, Head of Policy for Sustrans, described the failure to meet clean air targets as a national embarrassment.

“It’s outrageous that something as fundamental to our basic needs as clean air must be fought for through legal proceedings in the highest court in the land. Poor air quality reduces life expectancy by an average of over eleven years; the failure of the Government in dealing with air pollution is a travesty and a national embarrassment.”

“The next Government must act urgently to remedy the situation. That will mean serious, dedicated investment and an effective programme of action through the publication of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to help more people out of their polluting cars for short journeys.

“That won’t just mean fewer deaths from pollution – it will also tackle obesity and other diseases, climate emissions and congestion, benefiting our health and economy.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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