High Court rules Defra’s air pollution plans are illegal

Legal NGO ClientEarth, which was represented at the inaugural meeting of the APPG on Air Pollution, has defeated the government in court for the second time in 18 months as Defra’s plan to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis were found to be illegal.

In the original case over a year ago, Defra ministers were instructed develop and implement policies to decrease the amount of air pollution to legal levels in ‘the shortest possible time’. This week’s ruling has found however that the government’s plan to do so is illegally lacking in urgency.


The government had announced plans to create ‘clean air zones’ (CAZs) in just five British cities outside London. It has been found this week that this approach would have done little to truly tackle air quality at the rate that is necessary to prevent the early deaths of almost 40,000 people in the UK every year and to bring air pollution in the UK to within legal limits.

Through the process of legal action, it was uncovered that original proposals for many more CAZs were rejected by HM Treasury and that the plans that were drawn up were based on avoiding EU Commission fines rather than aiming to tackle the crisis in earnest.

The government has not challenged the decision and should now propose a much more comprehensive plan to arrest the deadly problem of air quality in our cities. This plan will be agreed in collaboration with ClientEarth and could include a national scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles and an expansion of CAZs into new cities.

The decision marks an important step for resolving the air pollution crisis, but pressure on the government must be maintained if the issue is to remain at the top of the agenda.