In a landmark decision, High Court judges said the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area 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 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018.
The judgement follows a long-running battle between the government and ClientEarth over its air pollution plans.
Speaking outside of the court, 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.
‘The problem was supposed to be cleaned up over eight years ago, and yet successive governments have failed to do enough.
‘The people who live in areas of England and Wales covered by this judgment deserve to be able breathe clean air and the government must now do all it can to make that happen quickly,’ added Ms Heslop.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, commented: ‘Despite the rhetoric from Michael Gove about his environmental credentials, this will be the third time in three years that the government’s air quality plans have been ruled illegal by the courts.
‘This problem should have been dealt with years ago, but this Tory government has had to be dragged through the courts into taking any action every step of the way,’ she added.
‘The issue of illegal air quality is one impacting the health of millions of people across the country, including school children and 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 government spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased that the judge dismissed two of the three complaints. The judge found that our modelling is compliant and that our approach to areas with major air quality problems is ‘sensible, rational and lawful’.
‘The Court has also asked us to go further in areas with less severe air quality problems. We had previously considered that it was sufficient to take a pragmatic, less formal approach to such areas. However, in view of the Court’s judgment, we are happy to take a more formal line with them.
‘We have already delivered significant improvements in air quality since 2010 and we will continue to implement our £3.5bn air quality plan.’