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High Court orders Government to tackle air pollution outside clean air zones

The Government has been ordered by the High Court to take stronger action to improve air quality in areas not compelled to introduce clean air zones (CAZs) or submit local action plans.

London will introduce its ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) next year, while five cities – Derby, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham and Southampton – have been ordered introduce clean air zones (CAZs) before 2020.

A further 23 local authorities, where breaches of NO2 legal limits are expected beyond 2021, are required to set out local action plans for tackling air quality.

Initial plans must be submitted to the Government by March, with final plans submitted by December.

However, a High Court judge has now ruled that the Government’s plan, published last July, is unlawful as it does not compel 45 other local authorities in England, where pollution is a problem, to comply with the law as soon as possible.

He said: “The fact that each of the 45 local authority areas will achieve compliance in any event by 2021 is of no immediate significance.”

Taking into account that 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018 however, Judge Mr Justice Garnham ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in the remaining 33.

Environmental campaigners Client Earth brought the case against the Environment Secretary and the Transport Secretary, while a claim against the Welsh Government was discontinued after it agreed to work with the campaigning group on new proposals.

The judge also dismissed two of the three complaints brought by Client Earth, finding that the Government’s modelling is compliant and that its approach to areas with major air quality problems is “sensible, rational and lawful”.

Speaking outside of the court, Client Earth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “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 the countries 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.”

 The 45 local authorities can be found in Table 1 of Annex K in the government’s detailed plan in the section ‘not required to conduct a feasibility study’.

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