New emissions laws likely as Government loses court case over pollution plans

Fresh plans will have to be drawn up following third High Court defeat for Government over proposals to tackle air quality


UK motorists are likely to face further emissions laws, after the High Court ruled that the Government’s plans to tackle air pollution are inadequate.

The court action, brought by environmental activists Client Earth, argued official plans to improve air quality were inadequate as they failed to detail how 45 local authorities with illegal pollution levels should deal with the issue.

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Siding with Client Earth in his ruling, Mr Justice Graham said the Government’s plans were “seriously flawed”, and were unlikely to bring pollution within legal levels in those areas until 2021.

Graham explained: “Because the obligation is zone-specific, the fact that each of the 45 local authority areas will achieve compliance in any event by 2021 is of no immediate significance.”

He went on to call upon ministers to take further action, saying: “The Environment Secretary must ensure that, in each of the 45 areas, steps are taken to achieve compliance as soon as possible, by the quickest route possible and by a means that makes that outcome likely.”

Previous plans included a £255 million fund to help local authorities tackle pollution, and the 2040 ban of conventional petrol and diesel cars. Despite these measures, the court heard that nitrogen dioxide levels in 37 of the 43 air quality zones in the country were too high.

The ruling means further emissions-restriction zones like the London T-Charge could well be on ministers’ horizons, while new local clean air zones could also bring fresh taxes, charges and restrictions.

There was some good news for the Environment and Transport Secretaries, however: Justice Graham rejected Client Earth’s claims the Government’s monitoring plans for five key cities – including London, Leeds and Birmingham - were inadequate, ruling them “sensible, rational and lawful”.

This isn’t the first time the Government’s air quality plans have crossed the courts’ paths: ministers have twice before been ordered to publish new plans, losing a case in April last year when they argued the General Election meant they were allowed to delay releasing proposals.

Back then, Justice Graham ruled that air pollution represented “exceptional public health circumstances”. That meant the Government could not rely on normal rules that excuse them from announcing new policies that might influence an election result.

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