Government opts not to appeal air quality plan deadline

The government has confirmed that it will not appeal Thursday’s ruling on the deadline for its plan to tackle nitrogen dioxide emissions, and will publish its proposals on 9 May, as ordered by the court last week.

Defra – the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – had launched a last minute bid to delay publication of its draft Air Quality Plan from Monday (27 April) until the end of June, citing purdah restrictions on government activities in the build up to the General Election.

Government will publish its air quality plan by May 9

Government has already delivered two versions of the plan, and was ordered to quash its Air Quality Plan for the second time in 18 months in a High Court case led by the environmental campaign group ClientEarth last November.

In the November ruling, the High Court stated that the plan must be published by the end of July after claiming that the government had failed to take adequate steps to address air pollution in a number of towns and cities across the country.

Delay

If the government had succeeded in its bid, it would have delayed the publication of the final plan until September 15.

However, on Thursday, Lord Justice Garnham ruled that a draft version of the plan must be published by 9 May – shortly after local council elections have taken place – but before the General Election on 8 June.

In his ruling, the judge said that a continued delay to the plan would constitute a ‘continued threat to public health’ and that ‘Purdah is not a rule of law which overrides the duty on the Government to comply with its statutory duty and the orders of the court.’

Mr Justice Garnham also denied permission for the government to appeal the decision – noting that the only potential route for an application to overturn the ruling would be via the Court of Appeal. Today the government confirmed that it will not be taking the case to the Court of Appeal and will meet the 9 May deadline set out by the Court last week.

During a briefing of journalists this morning (2 May) Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said that the government would not appeal against the judgement and will meet the 9 May deadline.

Responding to the statement, James Thornton chief executive of ClientEarth – which brought the case against the government – said: “We’re delighted the government has decided to stop dithering and delaying and look forward to seeing its air quality plans after the local elections.

“We’ll be analysing these plans and making sure they are up to scratch. We must see truly robust measures, including a national network of clean air zones to keep the dirtiest diesel vehicles away from pollution hotspots in our towns and cities.”

Mayor

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, added: “After months of dithering we will finally get to see the real test of whether this Government is willing to take the action required to tackle air pollution.

“The Government’s plan must match the scale of the challenge we face. Their plan must deliver a national diesel scrappage fund, offer incentives to encourage people to buy the cleanest vehicles, set out a new 21st century Clean Air Act and give me and Mayors across the country the resources we need to tackle non-transport sources of pollution such as construction and river emissions.

“If the Government’s strategy doesn’t include all this and more, then Ministers will be failing in their responsibility to the British people whose lives and health are so badly affected by our polluted air. This is really the make-or-break moment for this Government on air pollution.”