Client Earth has won the case against the government at the High Court meaning it has to reduce public exposure to Nitrogen Dioxide as soon as possible.
The judge ruled that the 2015 plan failed to comply with Article 23 of the EU Air Quality Directive and linked air quality standard regulations.
He ruled: “The proper construction of Article 23 means that the Secretary of State must aim to achieve compliance by the soonest date possible, that she must choose a route to that objective which reduces exposure as quickly as possible, and that she must take steps which mean meeting the value limits is not just possible, but likely.” The minister had fallen into error “in fixing on a projected compliance date of 2020 (and 2025 for London)”.
In April 2015 Client Earth won a case with the Supreme Court justices saying that immediate action was needed and set a deadline for the government to produce new plans to comply with EU nitrogen dioxide limits.
Client Earth said the subsequent plans were ”flawed”, ”woefully inadequate” and needed to be ”drastically” improved.
Limits for nitrogen dioxide were introduced by European Union law in 1999, and were supposed to be achieved by 2010. Client Earth says that 37 out of 43 zones across the UK “remain in breach of legal limits”.
Nathalie Lieven QC, for Client Earth argued that the entire approach of the Environment Secretary when establishing the 2015 Air Quality Plan was driven by cost, which was an irrelevant consideration. She added that the continuing failure meant a “continuing and significant public health risk”, a related financial cost to the UK economy, “including the cost to the public health system as well as the extensive loss of life and ill-health”.
Kassie Smith QC, for the Environment Secretary, arguing for the dismissal of the challenge: “The assessment of which measures should be included in the plan was based on a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the best available evidence and extensive internal and external consultation.
“The Air Quality Plan and the measures contained in it will achieve compliance in the shortest time possible.”
She added that the Environment Secretary: “has repeatedly made clear that the Air Quality Plan is not static – if appropriate and necessary, the plan may be scaled up, altered, amended etc, in order to address the changing evidence base or other factors”. She said that changing this approach would do more harm than good.