Government has spent £500,000 fighting losing dirty air court cases, FOI request reveals

A freedom of information release, obtained by Labour, reveals that the government has now spent over half a million pounds fighting losing court cases on air quality.

The most recent case was heard in earlier this year on the Government’s plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide, costing the government £148,135. It followed a long-running battle between the government and environmental law organisation ClientEarth over its air pollution plans.

The government was also ordered to pay ClientEarth’s costs up to a total of £35,000 with the judge finding that the government’s 2017 air quality plan was ‘unlawful’.

Judge Mr Justice Garnham ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible – as only 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018.

Speaking outside of the court in February, ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: ‘For the third time in the space of three years, the courts have declared that the government is failing in its obligation to clean up the air in our towns and cities.

‘We are delighted that the court has today ordered the government to urgently take further action to fix the dangerous air pollution in our towns and cities.’ added Ms Heslop.

The Government also incurred costs of £60,582 for another case brought by ClientEarth which was ruled upon in July 2017. The Government incurred costs of £14,796 for a case brought by ClientEarth on 27 April 2017 and was required to pay costs to ClientEarth of £11,000.

These figures are in addition to the £310,000 that the Government had spent fighting such cases previously, takes the total spent to over £500,000.

Labour has promised to introduce a new Clean Air Act to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

Sue Hayman MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, said: ‘Despite the rhetoric from the Government about their environmental credentials, the Government’s dirty air plans have continually been ruled illegal by the courts.

‘This Tory Government has had to be dragged through the courts every step of the way and have wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money fighting losing cases instead of taking action.

‘The issue of illegal dirty air is one impacting the health of millions of people across the country, including those most vulnerable in our communities. This public health emergency needs to be tackled with the urgency, leadership and seriousness it so desperately needs.’

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘We have already delivered significant improvements in air quality since 2010 and it was right to defend our position in court. The judge dismissed two of the three complaints in the latest case and found that our approach to areas with major air quality problems is ‘sensible, rational and lawful.’

We will continue to implement our £3.5 billion plan and work with local authorities to reduce emissions and improve air quality.’

Jenny Bates, clean air campaigner for Friends of the Earth, told Environment Journal: ‘Perhaps if the government spent as much time and money coming up with a decent air quality plan as it did briefing lawyers to unsuccessfully claim that current plans are adequate, we may see the progress we need when it comes to cleaning up the UK’s toxic air.

There are tens of thousands of early deaths each year in the UK, simply because of the dirty, polluted air they’re breathing. Government action is too little, too late, and as a result, people across the country are continuing to suffer unnecessarily.’

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett is the editor of Environment Journal. Follow him on Twitter

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