The UK government needs to come clean about its air pollution strategy, say lawyers

| 3rd April 2018
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Activists are calling for the government to make public its strategy on improving air quality as reports emerge that the UK could be referred to the European Court of Justice next month for failing to bring down illegal levels of air pollution. CATHERINE HARTE reports

People in the UK have a clear right to know what action the government is taking to protect their health and their right to breathe clean air.

The UK government has refused to make public its strategy to bring down illegal levels of air pollution, according to environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

The lawyers group says it sent a letter together with the European Enviornmental Bureau (EEB) to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on 20 February 2018 requesting that the secretary of states shares the information he submitted to the European Commission explaining their prolonged failure to tackle illegal pollution and suggested solutions.

It followed a meeting in Brussels where the UK and eight other EU countries were given a final chance to present their planned measures to improve air quality before facing court action.

Public interest

The UK government recognised that there is a public interest in disclosing the information as it would help the public understand the issue at hand when responding to ClientEarth and EEB’s request.

But ClientEarth has stated that the UK government refused to release the information as it would “adversely affect international relations” in the context of the legal proceedings against the UK.

People in the UK have a clear right to know what action the government is taking to protect their health and their right to breathe clean air.

 The news comes as reports claim the UK will be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) next month

Ugo Taddei, a lawyer for  ClientEarth, said: “There is overwhelming interest from the public when it comes to solving the UK’s air pollution crisis. There is no doubt they would want to know what additional action plans, if any, the UK government submitted to the European Commission.

 “Instead of hiding behind legal technicalities, the UK government should be completely transparent and follow the example of many other countries facing referrals to the Court of Justice.”

Legal warning

France, Germany, Italy and Slovakia have made their discussions with the commission public. However, Spain and Romania have also refused to publicise their exchange with the commission. Responses are still pending for Hungary and the Czech Republic.

 All nine countries could be referred to the ECJ in April, having already received a last legal warning from the commission in February.

 Taddei added: “This matter concerns the lives of people right across the UK currently living day in, day out, with poor air quality and its impacts on their health. Our success in the UK High Court confirmed that the government is failing to comply with air quality laws.

“People in the UK have a clear right to know what action the government is taking to protect their health and their right to breathe clean air.”

EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced this week that he will propose the commission refers “a number of” the countries facing infringement proceedings to the ECJ. The list will be announced at the end of April.

This Author

Catherine Harte is a contributing editor of The Ecologist. This story is based on a news release from ClientEarth.

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