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.

APPG on air pollution holds event with IPPR and Greenpeace on ‘Lethal and Illegal’ air pollution

The APPG on Air Pollution this week held a joint event with Greenpeace and IPPR to launch an timely new IPPR-led report on air quality in London.

Matthew Pennycook MP, the APPG’s chair, gave a keynote address to an audience that represented a cross-section of the air pollution prevention community held at the Institute for Mechanical Engineers. In his speech, Mr Pennycook compared the so-called ‘pea soup’ smog that London experienced in the 1950s to the less visible but equally deadly NOx and PM challenges of today and called for action from the government to see the phenomenon as it truly is – a public health crisis.

Mr Pennycook went on to say that the huge social and economic costs that this invisible threat presents to British cities means that nothing short of a new Clean Air Act could solve the problem. The need for a Clean Air Act, he said, made the work of an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution more important than ever.

Mr Pennycook’s speech was book-ended by addresses by Shirley Rodriguez, the Deputy Mayor of London for the Environment and Energy, and Laurie Laybourn-Langton who presented the key messages of IPPR’s report titled ‘Lethal and illegal: London’s air pollution crisis‘.

The report, authored by IPPR with support from Greenpeace and Kings College London, emphasised that London was well over its legal limit for substances that contribute to poor air quality as well as the human cost of the incentivised consumption of diesel vehicles. Indeed, the report finds that 96 percent of light goods vehicles were diesel in 2014, for example. Strikingly, it suggests that NO2 levels in London are comparable with notoriously polluted cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.

In terms of recommendations to policy makers, the report calls for a fairly radical programme to arrest and decrease air pollution in London. At the European level, the report calls for tougher standards and a ‘real world’ testing regime. Nationally, Lethal and illegal makes the case for VED to be devolved to the regional level and for a diesel scrappage scheme for older vehicles. In London, the report contends that there is a need to expand the ULEZ and tightening the standard for compliance to all diesels, tightening standards in the entire Low Emission Zone with the aim of phasing out diesel buses and taxis altogether and introducing new policies to encourage sustainable transport such as walking and cycling.

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution launches

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution has launched and officially registered with the House of Commons. Air quality contributes to the deaths of 40,000 people a year in the UK, has featured in countless EFRA Select Committee meetings, been a major campaigning issue in elections and is an issue that routinely receives national press coverage so although it is no surprise that the group has formed, it is long overdue.

The group was inspired by meetings between Matthew Pennycook MP, the campaign group Clean Air Alliance and the Environmental Industries Commission, an environmental trade body that will be providing the group’s secretariat.

The APPG on Air Pollution will aim to raise the profile of air quality issues in Parliament even further and educate members and peers on the tragic problems of poor air quality and how to solve them. The APPG will meet regularly with experts and campaigners to advocate for a better understanding of the topic in Parliament.

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Speaking to Air Quality News, Matthew Farrow, Executive Director of EIC said “air quality has been a big, big issue for a long time but gradually there has been a lot more attention on it in the media. But, while that is all good, we are conscious that it is a very complex issue – there are many different airborne pollutants and different technology options.

We also felt that there was much-increased interest among MPs and so there was a great deal of merit in setting up this group.”

In an article in Infrastructure Intelligence, he added “I’m delighted that Matthew Pennycook, the Labour MP for Greenwich, with whom we’ve been working to get the group up and running, has been elected as chair”.

Now that the Air Pollution All Party Parliamentary Group has formed, it will aim to generate a work programme as soon as possible. To be kept up to speed with the APPG’s progress, please send an email notifying EIC at info@eic-uk.co.uk and we will add you to our mailing list.

For information on how to join the group, please get in touch with oliver.johnson@eic-uk.co.uk or call EIC on 020 7654 9945.