The UK’s highest court has ruled that ministers must take “immediate action” to improve air quality in a ruling which has the potential to dominate the workload of the incoming Westminster government.
London is one of several regions in breach of European Union targets for Nitrogen Dioxide pollution and measures designed to reduce pollution levels aren’t expected to fully achieve compliance until 2030 – 20 years after the original deadline.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling is the culmination of a five year legal challenge brought by campaign group ClientEarth against the government’s plans which it says endangered the lives of “tens of thousands of people” each year.
As a result of the courts decision, ministers in the new Government will need to draw up and consult on new plans to clean-up the UK’s air quality and submit then to the European Commission “no later than December 31 2015”.
In unanimous ruling, Supreme Court Justice Lord Carnwath said: “The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue.”
Ministers will now need to consider imposing congestion charges and low emission zones in order to tackle car-produced pollution.
ClientEarth Lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the Supreme Court has upheld that right.”
“This ruling will benefit everyone’s health but particularly children, older people and those with existing health conditions like asthma and heart and lung conditions.”
In London it’s possible that plans to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone covering the centre of the capital from September 2020 could have to be brought forward to help the city achieve compliance.
Mayor Boris Johnson has repeatedly said the scheme should not come into effect until more models of cleaner vehicles are available and any attempt to introduce the scheme earlier would be hugely controversial with the car lobby.
Stephen Knight AM, a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly, described the Supreme Court’s decision as “an important wake-up call to politicians of all parties”.
He added: “Londoners have suffered too long from the dangerous health effects of air pollution and will welcome this judgement.
“This ruling challenges the complacency that has for too long been shown by Whitehall – and of course Boris Johnson at City Hall – in tackling air pollution.”
VIDEO: Watch the Supreme Court’s verdict
Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, said: “The Supreme Court ruling this morning couldn’t be clearer – there must now be real ambition and determination to solve the source of the problem.
“It’s not good enough to tell people that the air is bad and they should stay inside. Instead we should be looking at Paris good practice such as free public transport in towns and cities on days of high air pollution and prohibiting heavy polluting diesel vehicles from city centres”.
Murad Qureshi, Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson, said: “For years Boris Johnson has shied away from tackling this silent killer. Today’s judgement should finally spark meaningful action to clamp down on the dangerous pollutants being pumped into the air.
“As a start we need to see an ambitious and detailed plan to get the capital’s air quality under control. That means expanding the Mayor’s proposed Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London and using is as a basis for similar schemes in other areas of the country as Labour has proposed.”