Air Clean Up

Why is the UK Government Back in Court Again?

Jul 12 2017 Read 526 Times

The UK Government is facing the prospect of a third court case with environmental law firm ClientEarth over its inability to produce a robust plan to deal with air pollution which complies with EU standards.

The incumbent government has twice lost court battles against the firm, who called their latest set of proposals “woefully inadequate” and have demanded that the Conservatives take action to alleviate the poor levels of air quality which affect the vast majority of the British population.

Third time’s a charm

The government’s first tangle with ClientEarth came back in 2011, when they claimed that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) fell short of safeguarding the British public with regards to their proposals for cleaning up the country’s airwaves. Though the case was dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal (CoA), it was approved by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Two years on, ClientEarth had their first court victory over the government when a Supreme Court judge ruled that the Tories must submit detailed plans to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution by the end of the year – that ruling was initially made in April 2015.

Though the government duly complied with the ruling, their draft proposals were deemed to fall far short of what was required by the law firm, who took them to court once again the following year. Again, the firm were victorious, with the High Court ruling that the government’s five-year plans did not do enough to ensure that air pollution levels were reduced “as soon as possible”.

Theresa May’s party attempted to delay the release of their latest plans until after the recent General Election on June 8th, claiming that doing so could jeopardise their campaign by unloading “a controversial bomb” on it. The presiding judge rejected their claims and the government were forced to once again publish their plans, which were once again criticised by ClientEarth. As a consequence, the firm are preparing for a third court case against May and her colleagues – with the hope that this time might finally prompt them into meaningful action.

Inadequate proposals

A recent study found that air pollution affects 90% of the UK and could even contribute to an increased incidence of traffic accidents. Despite these figures, the government have only proposed implementing Ultra Low Emissions Zones (ULEZs) in five regions of the UK, prompting widespread criticism.

Despite the evidence that ULEZs would go some way to alleviating traffic-related pollution, the government appears to fear a public backlash against implementing them and have urged local authorities only to consider them as a last resort. Meanwhile, the proposals have also come under fire for their neglect of areas outside of England.

“The draft plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are simply plans for more plans,” argued James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth. “The court ordered a plan for the UK Government to obey the law on pollution limits across the UK as soon as possible. The health of all UK citizens is at stake, not just some.”

Thornton went on to say that the government had attempted to sweep advice from public health watchdogs under the carpet. Citing reports from Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Thornton said: “The UK Government did not make this clear to people when it consulted on its air quality plans for the UK, forcing us to go back to the High Court next Wednesday to try to get them to do this.”

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