ClientEarth rejects government's 'weak' clean air plan

Government is facing more trouble and the likely possibility of another trip to court after the environmental activist group of lawyers ClientEarth criticised Defra's latest air quality plan as 'weak and coherent, lacking the ambition and detail to tackle Briatin's illegal levels of air pollution'.

Defra published its new air quality plan for consultation on Friday after the High Court rejected government's request to delay publication until after the General Election in June. This came after ClientEarth twice took the government to court over the inadequacy of its previous air pollution plans. The High Court ordered the problem readdressed, but the new plan does not go far enough and appears to pass the buck to local authorities, ClientEarth says.

The group's CEO, James Thornton, said: “We are continuing to analyse the government’s latest air quality plan, but on the face of it, it looks much weaker than we had hoped for.

“The court ordered the government to take this public health issue seriously and while the government says that pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health, we will still be faced with illegal air quality for years to come under these proposals.”

Government's new plan reiterates existing measures, which include current road investments and efforts to encourage take up of low emission vehicles, plus it introduce some new actions to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide emissions. These new measures include new 'real-driving' emissions standards for vehicle manufacturers and a mandate on local authorities to implement clean air zones..

Thornton added: “There needs to be a national network of clean air zones which prevent the most polluting vehicles from entering the most illegally polluted streets in our towns and cities. But we fail to see how these non-charging clean air zones, will be effective if they don’t persuade motorists to stay out of those areas. The government seems to be passing the buck to local authorities rather than taking responsibility for this public health emergency.

“The government has also failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme and this is a crucial element of the range of measures needed to persuade motorists to move to cleaner vehicles. We will be analysing all the technical details in these documents.”

ClientEarth also says it remains committed to the issue, which suggests government is not going to be let off the hook over delivery of plans that bring about real results. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also criticised government's latest plan as "woefully inadequate". Khan has planned a series of measures for London including bringing forward an Ultra-Low Emission Zone and is trying to get government support for introducing a diesel scrappage scheme in London.

Writing in the London Evening Standard, Khan said:  "I welcome that the government has agreed to consult on introducing a targeted diesel scrappage fund, as I have modelled, to help drivers who bought diesel vehicles in good faith. However, the government has failed to give a firm commitment and, even if it goes ahead, this alone would go nowhere near fixing the problem. 

“We need a legally enforceable right to clean air for everybody and new powers to regulate all emissions sources, including construction and river vessels.  We also need changes to vehicle excise duty to encourage people to buy the greenest cars. None of this featured in the government's plan and I would not be surprised to see ministers dragged back to court and ordered to produce a new plan that actually meets the challenges we are facing.”