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Environment Tories lose third High Court battle over plans to tackle illegal levels of air pollution

THE government suffered a third High Court defeat in three years today over its plans to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

Mr Justice Garnham ruled that the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with air pollution exceeding legal limits was “unlawful.”

He ordered ministers to require 33 of the authorities to investigate and identify measures to tackle air pollution as soon as possible, since just 12 of the 45 are projected to have legal levels by the end of this year.

The court found in the government’s favour, however, in relation to monitoring and modelling of plans for five cities, deeming its approach “sensible, rational and lawful.”

The government’s 2017 air quality plan was drawn up after its previous plan was quashed by the High Court in November, following the Supreme Court defeat of its first plan in April 2015.

Environment lawyers from ClientEarth dismissed the 2017 plan as a “shabby rewrite” of the previous one and initiated legal action against the government.

The case was also brought against the Welsh government, but it conceded its lack of a plan to tackle air pollution was unlawful early in the hearing.

Mr Justice Garnham said the case was important because a failure to comply with European pollution directives “exposes the citizens of the UK to a real and persistent risk of significant harm.”

ClientEarth, which brought the previous two actions against the government, said the victory would be “of great embarrassment to ministers.”

ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “For the third time in the space of three years, the courts have declared that the government is failing in its obligation to clean up the air in our towns and cities.

“The problem was supposed to be cleaned up over eight years ago and yet successive governments have failed to do enough.”

Shadow environment minister Sue Hayman said: “Despite the rhetoric from [Environment Minister] Michael Gove about his environmental credentials, this will be the third time in three years that the government’s air quality plans have been ruled illegal by the courts.

“This problem should have been dealt with years ago, but this Tory government has had to be dragged through the courts into taking any action every step of the way.”

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