High Court rejects government bid to delay air quality plan
Publication â€˜like dropping a controversial bomb', ministers' lawyer told court
The High Court has ordered the government to publish its clean air plan by 9 May, rejecting an application by ministers to postpone publication until after the general election.
Last Friday (21 April), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs applied to the court to extend the publication deadline from 24 April – the date ordered by the same court in November 2016 – to 30 June, citing ‘pre-election proprietary rules’.
Giving judgment, Mr Justice Garnham ruled in favour of environmental lawyers group ClientEarth, which had opposed the government’s application, and told DEFRA to publish the final plan by 31 July – the original date of the order.
Figures published by DEFRA last year estimate that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from diesel traffic cause 23,500 of the 40,000 premature deaths from air pollution each year.
James Eadie QC, representing the government, had told the court at this morning’s hearing how publishing the plan would be ‘like dropping a controversial bomb’ into the local and national elections. He added that a delay in publication would not impact on the implementation of any proposals.
ClientEarth, represented by Nathalie Lieven QC, argued that air quality was ‘a huge issue of public concern’ and air pollution was linked to hundreds of deaths a week, so the six-week delay would make a difference.
Garnham J rejected the government’s argument that delaying the consultation would delay the implementation of clean air measures.
He went on to say that there was nothing in any directives or regulations about rules like purdah delaying tackling member state’s air quality plans.
Outdoor air pollution contributes to 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.
In February, the European Commission issued a final warning to the UK over breaches of EU air pollution limits.
Labour has condemned the government’s failure to act on air pollution, which it says is a ‘public health emergency’ following new analysis commissioned by the party.
Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal