Environmental law firm sets out four key conditions it says the UK’s imminent plan for dealing with air pollution must meet
ClientEarth has today set out four ‘red lines’ it claims the UK’s forthcoming air quality plan must meet, raising the prospect of further legal action if the government fails to meet the new conditions.
The environmental law group said the court-ordered plan, which has to be delivered within the next few weeks, must seek to tackle illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible” and include measures backed by “robust” air quality modelling and government funding.
Moreover, it said the plan should mandate every town and city with illegal levels of air pollution to set up clean air zones which place restrictions on high-polluting passenger cars.
As part of long-running legal action brought by ClientEarth, the government was last year ordered by the High Court to produce a new plan for tackling air pollution across the UK which breach EU rules, after its previous action plan was deemed too weak.
The ruling means Defra now has until 24 April to publish a draft plan for consultation and until the end of July to produce the final plan.
However, a spokesman for Defra told BusinessGreen this morning he did not yet have a confirmed date for publication of the draft air quality plan, and refused to be drawn on when the document might emerge.
Media reports this week suggested the plan is imminent and will include measures to set up around 35 clean air zones in city centres across England which could see drivers of the dirtiest diesel cars, coaches, lorries, vans and taxis pay up to £20 a day to enter the zones.
However, sections of the media and motor industry lobbyists have since rallied against the propsect of diesel car owners facing new charges, leading to Prime Minster Theresa May stating she was “very conscious” of the concerns raised by diesel drivers and would “take that into account” when the new plan it released.
In addition to the ‘red lines’ set out by ClientEarth, the law firm today said it was “strongly in favour” of a targeted scrappage scheme to encourage drivers of the most polluting vehicles to trade in their cars for lower-emission models. It said such an approach would “compensate the thousands of diesel drivers who bought their vehicles in good fair as successive governments favoured diesel over other fuels in an attempt to reduce CO2”.
“Air pollution has blighted the lives of millions of people in this country for years,” ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said in a statement. “With the new plans it was ordered to produce as a result of our court victory, this government has the opportunity to create a clean air legacy that will benefit everyone now and long into the future. We hope that it takes this opportunity.”
Defra said in a statement that it was “firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions” and that it would “update our air quality plans shortly to further improve the nation’s air quality”.