High Court hearing confirmed for latest air quality legal challenge, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan kicks off new global drive to improve urban air quality
The government is facing yet another day in court over its air quality plans, after a judge ordered a High Court hearing on the latest challenge questioning the legality of Minister's proposed air pollution measures.
Legal campaigners ClientEarth announced today that Mr Justice Nicklin has expedited the case and confirmed the a hearing will take place before 23rd February.
ClientEarth is pursuing its third case against the government, following two successful efforts to get Ministers to strengthen their air quality plans.
The latest air quality strategy was released earlier this year and while it included more ambitious measures than previous plans, ClientEarth has alleged that it will still not move the UK into line with EU air quality standards quickly enough.
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: "We're not surprised that the judge has ruled that the government has a case to answer here. The current plans are too weak and too vague and mean that we will still be choking on illegal levels of pollution for years to come. The government's persistent failure to deal with air pollution in this country is nothing short of a scandal."
Defra was considering a request for comment at the time of going to press.
ClientEarth's case will aleege the new plan backtracks on previous commitments to order five cities to introduce clean air zones by 2020; fails to require 45 local authorities in England to take action to tackle air pollution, despite them having illegal levels of air pollution; and includes no requirements for Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible.
The legal group is seeking a court order that would force the government to take additional actions to improve the air quality plan, backed by a clear timetable for consultation and implementation of new measures and estimates of their effect on air quality.
ClientEarth said Leicester City Council and Oxford City Council have also written to the government raising doubts about the plans and expressing concerns that the plan has underestimated pollution levels in their cities and will not provide them with the support needed to address the issue.
"The government has identified at least 80 local authorities with illegal and harmful levels of air pollution but more than half of them are not being required to take action," said Thornton. "We have made progress with the government, which before we started our legal case was doing nothing, but air pollution has a serious effect on people's health, the environment and the economy and more must be done.
"The solutions to this problem are obvious. We need a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted towns and cities alongside action to help people switch to cleaner transport. The government must finally show leadership and commit to taking action."
The move comes just days after a number of councils wrote to the government to call for the creation of a more ambitious network of clean air zones across the UK.
It also comes as London Mayor Sadiq Khan teamed up with Sampath Raj, the Mayor of Bengaluru in India, to launch a new air quality partnership involving up to 20 other world cities.
Khan announced the new partnership yesterday in Delhi during his trade trip to India and Pakistan, explaining that the new network will be jointly led by London and Bengaluru and will aim to help cities around the world tackle toxic air quality.
The London Mayor was speaking just hours after the air in Delhi became so toxic it stopped a cricket Test Match between India and Sri Lanka, after players were left "continuously vomiting" as a result of the smog.
According to the World Health Organisation air pollution causes 6.5 million premature deaths every year, and affects cities in almost every continent around the world.
Under the new partnership Khan said London will host a major new trial of state-of-the-art air quality sensors to gather detailed data on air quality near the city's schools, hospitals, construction sites, and busy roads.
Results from the £750,000 trial will be shared with Bengaluru and other Indian cities, including Delhi, and could lead to the widespread banning of cars and other vehicles in the worst affected areas.
"I'm doing everything in my power to clean up London's lethal air from introducing the world's first toxicity charge for older more polluting cars and bringing forward the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, to cleaning up our bus and taxi fleet," Khan said. "I'm pleased my ambitious work will soon be boosted by new state-of-the-art air quality sensor monitoring technology that will help deliver the most comprehensive data on toxic pollution ever."
In related news, Leeds City Council today published plans to charge the most polluting buses, lorries and taxis for entering large parts of the city centre in a bid to tackle air pollution.
However, green groups said the plans did not go far enough after councillors opted not to introduce similar charges for cars and vans.
"Leeds residents will continue to breathe illegally polluted air for longer because Leeds City Council has failed to take the bold and vital step of restricting polluting cars from the heart of the city," said Simon Bowens, Friends of the Earth Yorkshire campaigner. "This decision also flies in the face of recent high court rulings demanding the government get air pollution down to legal levels in the shortest time possible."
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