Government loses third air pollution court case

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have felt compelled to take the UK government to court for a third time - and winning yet again - to force action to be taken to reduce air pollution. 

On 21st February a ruling was handed down at the High Court in London by Judge Mr Justice Garnham. He declared the government's failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area unlawful.


Thirty three towns and cities are expected to still have air pollution above legal levels by the end of 2018. The court ordered the government to urgently take further action to fix the problem. 

The problem was supposed to be cleaned up over eight years ago, and yet successive governments have failed to do enough.
— ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop

The government had made a previous commitment to legally ensure five cities implemented charging Clean Air Zones, which charge the most polluting vehicles to enter the most polluted parts of a city. This has not been done. 

ClientEarth made legal history when, as a result of the UK government's repeated failure to tackle air pollution, the High Court judge said he would make a "wholly exceptional" ruling. He is allowing the environmental lawyers to bring judicial review without the need to apply for permission. That enables the activist lawyers to take the government straight back to court without delay if sufficient action is not taken.

The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough...and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved.
— Mr Justice Garham, when handing down judgement

The judge praised ClientEarth as a "valuable monitor of the government's efforts" but the organisation has been reported as being frustrated that they have to keep taking the government to court in order to see air quality improvements, while people in towns and cities are at "real risk" from air pollution. 

The Prime Minister and Defra tried to dilute the message that the ruling sent out by claiming that the judge had dismissed two of the three complaints brought by ClientEarth. They were WRONG. The ClientEarth website clearly states that the judge ruled in ClientEarth's favour on two of the three grounds. 

 "Dying for Clean Air" protest in Terminal Five - May 2015

"Dying for Clean Air" protest in Terminal Five - May 2015

It is time for the government to stop trying to devalue the work being done to force them to clean up our air. Theresa May must fully accept that her government is not doing enough to dramatically reduce the filth in our air that is shortening lives. Adopting policies that will increase pollution - such as the proposed Heathrow expansion - is unacceptable. 

...another runway at Heathrow could not be considered unless the Government could be confident that levels of all relevant pollutants could be consistently contained within EU limits
— DfT The Future of Air Transport report - December 2003 (14 years ago!)

A third runway should not even be under consideration. People living near Heathrow have repeatedly been told over the past 15 years that they will get clean air with a two-runway Heathrow - yet it has not been achieved; It cannot be achieved with three runways. Heathrow is frittering away investors' money and the DfT is wasting taxpayers' money on this fruitless quest to expand an airport that generates pollution.  

Our government wastes even more of our money by forcing repeated court cases that are required because it will not give air pollution the priority is deserves. First and foremost we all need air we can breathe without damaging our bodies.

All MPs must show they care about the nation's health and vote down the Airports National Policy Statement (possibly in late Spring), which would give approval for a third runway. 

 ClientEarth's well-deserved award - October 2017

ClientEarth's well-deserved award - October 2017

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