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Government bid to delay air quality plan rejected by High Court

3rd May 2017

The High Court have rejected an application made by ministers in order to postpone the government’s clean air plan until after the general election. They have ordered the government to publish the plan by the 9th of May.

Citing ‘pre-election proprietary rules’, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs applied to the court to extend the publication deadline from 24th of April to 30th of June last Friday. The same court had previously ruled in November 2016 that they must publish the plan in April.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Garnham ruled in favour of ClientEarth, a group of environmental lawyers that opposed the government’s application. He later told DEFRA to have the final plan published by July 31st, the original date of the order.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from diesel traffic cause approximately 23,500 of the 40,000 premature deaths from air pollution each year according to figures published by DEFRA last year.

Government representative James Eadie QC told the court at the morning’s hearing that publishing the plan would be ‘like dropping a controversial bomb’ into the elections, and that a delay in publication should not affect the implementation of the proposals.

Nathalie Lieven QC, representing ClientEarth, pointed out that air quality was ‘a huge issue of public concern’ and that the six-week delay would still have significant effects, as air pollution is linked to hundreds of deaths per week.

Judge Garnham rejected the government’s argument that delaying the publication of plans would not delay the implementation of the clean air measures.

According to figures from the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health, outdoor air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. The European Commission issued a final warning to the UK over breaches of the EU air pollution limits in February.

The government’s failure to act on air pollution has been condemned by the Labour party, who have labelled it a ‘public health emergency’.