The government has revealed that Britain’s largest cities are unlikely to meet EU air quality standards before 2030, retreating from its previous claim that the UK will have clean air by 2025.
Legal limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution will not be reached in London, Birmingham and Leeds until 2030, the UK government has told an EU court, after the court launched legal action against the UK for its bad quality air earlier this year.
The deadline is later than what previously promised, with clean air campaigners saying that the move would cost citizens their health, as air pollution contributes to up to 29,000 deaths every year. Lawyers from the EU Commission said this would be “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.
Campaigners said the government tried to prevent the information from being revealed using rules on legal privilege, but the data was published on the Department for environment, food and rural affairs website on Thursday.
Alan Andrews, from environmental law firm ClientEarth, which last year successfully brought the government to court for breaching legal limits for air quality, said, “It’s bad enough that the government has no intention of complying with these limits in the foreseeable future.
“It’s even worse that they’re trying to hide behind legal procedural rules to keep this quiet. We have a right to breathe clean air and the right to know when the government is failing to protect us.
“Another five years of delay means thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill. The UK needs to act now to get deadly diesel vehicles out of our towns and cities.”
Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, Jenny Bates commented, “Failure to meet air pollution limits in three of our major cities for another sixteen years would have serious impacts on the health of thousands of people.
“Rapid steps to ban the dirtiest vehicles and cut traffic levels must be taken, and road-building plans that will simply add to the problem should be abandoned.”
A Defra spokesman replied, “We are investing heavily in measures to improve air quality and have committed billions to increase uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport initiatives work is underway to ensure compliance with EU limits in the shortest possible time.”