ClientEarth has written to 38 local authorities in England and Wales warning of the legal risk of inaction on air pollution, as local councils seemingly miss crucial deadlines set by the government to produce air quality plans.
The environmental law organisation, which won three legal cases against the UK government over illegal levels of air pollution across the country, is concerned by the slew of missed deadlines and ineffective measures put forward by local authorities.
The charity, which has not ruled out further legal action to tackle toxic air in towns and cities across the country, says that the lack of meaningful progress on the issue is proof of the government’s flawed approach of passing the buck to ill-equipped local authorities.
ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield, said: “We are extremely concerned, given the urgency of the situation, at the glacial progress of action from local authorities.
"Judging by what they are telling residents, many have missed government deadlines to submit plans and some have consulted on potentially legally compliant action before scaling back proposals and delaying decisions.”
Among the cities ClientEarth has written to is Derby, which has failed to publish its final proposals six months after the original deadline set by ministers of 15 September last year.
Instead of requiring urgent action, the government decided to extend Derby’s deadline to come up with proposals. Its final plans are now due on 26th March but, at the time of writing, the council’s website has no information on the status of the proposals or their content.
Many other authorities, including both Bristol and Manchester, are also yet to publish detailed proposals, months after the original 31 December deadline set by ministers for their final plans.
Nield said: “The courts have been clear that the UK Government is obliged to ensure plans are put in place as soon as can be, but instead ministers seem to be setting deadlines and simply watching them sail past.
“It is now almost a decade since legal limits came into place and they are still being broken in large parts of the country. Every week that goes by without action is another week where people are breathing in harmful air pollution which damages their health. This is particularly true of vulnerable groups like children.
“Aside from the legal situation, this is a moral failure from politicians at all levels. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the central government to sort this out but local authorities should not be using government inaction as an excuse not to do all they can to protect people from breathing dirty air.”
ClientEarth has also sent the councils a briefing, which outlines councils’ responsibilities and warns that if their final proposals do not satisfy the necessary legal requirements, they will be open to legal challenge.