Last week the High Court ruled that the UK’s plans to improve air pollution are “unlawful”. Mr Justice Garnham said the government’s approach to pollution in 45 local authority areas in England where air quality is below legal limits was “not sufficient” and “seriously flawed”. Hounslow, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham are all way over the European limit for acceptable air pollution.
Ruth Cadbury MP, Brentford & Isleworth challenged the Prime Minister
Ruth Cadbury put a question to the Prime Minister in parliament about it, having just visited a Chiswick primary school to discuss the problem.
“On Monday, children and parents at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Chiswick told me of their concerns about air pollution affecting children’s health. This morning, the High Court ruled that the Government’s air quality plan is unlawful. What does the Prime Minister feel is worse: losing for the third time in the High Court, or 40,000 unnecessary deaths and the impact on children’s health of the UK’s unsustainable air quality?”
This was the Prime Minister’s answer:
“The issue the hon. Lady has raised about air quality is important, and that is why we have been taking action to improve air quality. I say to her that I do not think that the way she has described the Court’s decision this morning properly reflects the Court’s decision. Let me just explain to the House that we welcome the fact that the Court dismissed the complaint relating to five cities with major air quality problems and found that we are taking appropriate action. It agreed that the modelling we used to support the 2017 air quality plan is sound. It has asked us to go further in areas with less severe air quality problems where we thought a pragmatic approach was appropriate; we will now formalise that. But actually, on two of the three counts, the Court found in the Government’s favour”.
This is not how then media interpreted the judgement, with papers across the spectrum, from the Guardian to the FT reporting it as a third defeat for the Government. The fact is that the Government has been told it has to make changes in the way they tackle air pollution.
Environmental charity Client Earth brought the case
The environmental charity which brough the case celebrated victory: ‘Environmental lawyers ClientEarth today won a third case against the UK government over the country’s illegal and harmful levels of air pollution… Judge Mr Justice Garnham declared the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area unlawful. He ordered ministers to require local authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle illegal levels of pollution in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible – as 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of 2018’.
Speaking outside of the court, ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “For the third time in the space of three years, the courts have declared that the government is failing in its obligation to clean up the air in our towns and cities. We are delighted that the court has today ordered the government to urgently take further action.”