Highways England’s failure to commit to measures to tackle air pollution on its roads is unlawful, lawyers from ClientEarth have warned.
The Government assesses pollution on a number of roads managed by the company, but latest figures show more than one-third have illegal levels of NO2. Some are more than 1.5 times over the limit.
The Government has a legal obligation to ensure that measures are in place to reduce pollution on these roads to within legal limits in the shortest possible time, but ClientEarth says there is no concrete plan.
The environmental organisation has written to the Government calling for ministers to direct Highways England to come up with a time-bound plan as soon as possible.
ClientEarth clean air lawyer Katie Nield said: “Thousands of people across the country are breathing toxic air which is making them sick.
“Children are particularly vulnerable. Illegal levels of pollution from traffic on major roads are a part of the problem, so it’s hard to understand why ministers are trying to shirk their legal and moral responsibility to do something about it.”
Client earth is increasingly concerned that the current plans do nothing about the toxic air on England’s major road network.
Indeed, the government has told local authorities that their plans to reduce pollution do not need to include Highways England maintained roads in their areas.
In its legal letter to the Government, ClientEarth said: “While successive government plans have alluded to work being done to identify solutions, neither central government nor Highways England have yet set out what measures they are committed to put in place, or when they will take effect, in order to tackle the problem in the shortest possible time.
“Over eight years after legal limits came into force, a legally compliant plan to address continued exceedances on the Strategic Road Network is still lacking.”
It concludes by calling for ministers to direct Highways England to produce a legally-compliant plan with concrete, time-bound proposals as soon as possible.
The Government’s Road Investment Strategy established a £100 million designated air quality fund for Highways England, of which £75m was allocated to the period from April 2015 to March 2020.
A Highways England spokesperson said: “We are aware of the Client Earth letter. We remain committed to investing the £75m air quality fund through to the end of March 2020, as set out in the government’s Road Investment Strategy.
"Since 2015 we have been doing the necessary investigation to find meaningful and effective measures to improve air quality alongside our network; to date we have spent £7.7m, of the funds, including support for the new electric van demonstration centre in Leeds, which is being delivered in partnership with Leeds City Council, and electric charging points.
"We are also progressing the roll out of the national air quality barrier programme, and continue to support local authorities with the delivery of their clean air zones.”