High Court rejects government bid to delay air quality plans

Apr 30, 2017, 01:13
High Court rejects government bid to delay air quality plans

The High Court has today rejected the government's application to extend the deadline for publishing its draft air quality plan until after the general election, setting a new deadline for the plan to be released after next week's local elections.

He said that the draft plan must be published on May 9 to allow for any changes following the local government elections which take place on May 4, with the date for the final plan unchanged on July 31.

Ministers requested that draft guidelines not be published until June 30 with the final report published September 15.

Leadsom claimed the plan has been written, but was being held back as it would breach rules on Government activity - known as purdah - in the run up to the local and general election.

The ruling follows a lengthy court battle between environmental law firm ClientEarth and the government to deliver an air quality plan to bring the United Kingdom back into compliance with European Union air quality rules. "We're glad the court agrees that this decision is far too important to delay", said Gareth Redmond-King, head of energy and climate at WWF.

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Green groups counter-argued, successfully in the end, that pollution and public health is not a "party political" issue and instead something that is a civil right.

If the Government wishes to challenge the decision, it would have to go directly to the Appeal Court due to the ruling from Judge Garnham.

He said that Sue Gray, the Director General of the Cabinet Office's Ethics team had raised "serious concerns about the appropriateness of publishing this in the sensitive period" given the impending general and local elections'. The new policy is ready to be published, the government's lawyer James Eadie told the court, but doing so now would be like "dropping a controversial bomb" on the election.

He said Defra's own figures show 23,500 deaths each year are caused by nitrogen dioxide each year - more than 64 deaths a day - and other studies cite even higher figures.

"Government must now deliver ambitious plans to clean up the air we breathe".

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They argued that publication would fall foul of election "purdah" rules.

On Thursday in London, the judge rejected the Government's application.

However, the High Court decided that purdah was a convention only and did not override legal obligations to clean up the air.

He added that the government's approach had been "far too leisurely" because ministers were in breach of the European Union air quality directive and the air quality crisis was a "matter of great urgency".

'Toxic air left unchecked will lead to a rising tide of ill health for everyone, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

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London mayor Sadiq Khan said the verdict meant the government "will now have to face its responsibilities sooner rather than later".

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