Missed air quality targets hit new high as ClientEarth mulls fresh legal action

A scene from ClientEarth’s Poisoned Playgrounds campaign video.

The number of UK local authorities missing air quality targets reached a seven year high last year, new government statistics show.

The news comes as ClientEarth revealed it has written to the UK government warning that without action to address the holes in its latest air quality plans, ministers would face legal action for the third time.

Air Quality Management Areas must be declared by local authorities when air quality objectives are not, or are unlikely to be, met. The latest figures show that a total of 278 of the 391 local authorities (71%) in the UK now have these zones.

The figure in 2010 was 258. The number is rising despite the central government losing two court cases against ClientEarth and being ordered by judges at both the Supreme Court and High Court to clean up the country’s illegal air pollution.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “These new figures show that this is a national problem that requires a national solution. The latest air quality plan simply passes the buck to local authorities who will have little option but to impose charges on diesel vehicles. It is high time that the government kept up its end of the bargain and helped ordinary people and small businesses make the shift away from diesel towards cleaner forms of transport.”

In its legal letter to the government, ClientEarth highlighted the fact that 45 local authorities are not being required to take action to achieve air quality standards, despite being forecast to breach air pollution limits for several years to come.

The letter also criticises the government’s lack of progress on key national policies such as changes to the tax system to favour cleaner vehicles, introducing a targeted diesel scrappage scheme and setting up a “clean air fund” to help local authorities tackle pollution.

In Germany, the federal government has set up a €1bn fund with the help of a €250m contribution from the car industry.

ClientEarth’s Poisoned Playgrounds campaign, launched last month, revealed that more than 950 schools in the UK were on or near illegally polluted roads – because of the government’s failure to tackle the problem since limits were introduced in 2010.

Andrews added: “There are children in this country growing up in areas with levels of pollution that could stunt their lung growth. We don’t think this is acceptable. If the government continues to fail in its duty to ensure legal levels of air pollution, then we will be left with no choice but to go back to court.”

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