The government has been ordered back to the High Court to set out its reasons for applying to an extension for the publication of its Air Quality Plan to tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions.
A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday (27 April) morning at the High Court in London which will also be attended by lawyers from the environmental campaign group ClientEarth. The court has set aside two and a half hours for the hearing.
The government had been ordered by the Court to publish a draft version of its Air Quality Plan by 4pm yesterday (24 April) – before completing a final version by 30 June.
However, in light of the purdah restrictions on government activity in the build up to the General Election on 8 June, Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – has claimed that it is unable to publish the plan for consultation, and has applied to postpone the deadline until after the election.
Yesterday’s publication would have been the third version of the plan: the government was ordered to quash its Air Quality Plan for the second time in 18 months in a High Court case led by ClientEarth last November.
Commenting this morning, James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, said: “Thursday’s hearing is at the court’s direction because the UK government has asked for an extension.
“We are preparing our response to the government’s application. This is a public health issue and not a political issue. Urgent action is required to protect people’s health from the illegal and poisonous air that we are forced to breathe in the UK.
“This is a matter for the court to decide once the government has made its arguments because it is the government which has not met, and instead seeks to extend the court’s deadline for the clean air plan, to clean up our air.”
A spokeswoman for Defra said: “This is a matter for the court.”
Guidance on General Election rules published in the lead up to the 2015 General Election state that in general, consultations should not be launched during the Election period.
However, if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ where launching a consultation is considered essential – for example in safeguarding public health – permission is required from the Cabinet Office to hold the consultation.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday when summoned to answer an urgent question on the Air Quality Plan yesterday afternoon, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said that the government had applied to delay publication of the draft version of the plan to 30 June, with a final version then to be published on 15 September (see airqualitynews.com story).
She said: “I think that clean air is an absolute top priority for this government. We have been working on our new proposals for the last five months and we are ready to go with them, we are now seeking a very short extension to meet the priority rules around purdah and we don’t expect that will delay the implementation of our plans.”