ClientEarth wins third court fight against Whitehall over air pollution

ClientEarth supporters with Caroline Russell
Air force: ClientEarth supporters outside court in 2016. Photograph: ClientEarth

An environmental law firm today won a third court victory against the government in its battle against illegal air pollution.

London-based ClientEarth launched the legal action last November in response to ministers’ “stubborn failure” to develop plans to tackle high levels of nitrogen dioxide across the country.

In 2016, the firm won a High Court battle that forced the government to come up with a proposal to combat air pollution.

ClientEarth then came out on top in another court scrap last April when a judge rejected ministers’ attempts to delay publication of their proposal.

My Justice Garnham ruled in the High Court today that, for the first time ever, ClientEarth can immediately bring the government back to court if it prepares a plan which is unlawful.

This move, which the judge described as “wholly exceptional”, means the environmental lawyers will not need to apply for permission to bring a judicial review.

ClientEarth’s Anna Heslop said: “The judge has effectively allowed us to bring this matter straight back to court without delay if the government continues to fall short of its duties.

“We are extremely grateful for this because it means we will be able to monitor the government’s actions even more effectively and hold them to account.”

Handing down the ruling, Mr Justice Garnham said: “The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough […] and it seems court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved.”

The judge praised ClientEarth as a “valuable monitor of the government’s efforts”, and made mention of the fact that this is the third unsuccessful attempt by the government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible.

ClientEarth is also campaigning to tackle toxic air around schools.

It launched a ‘Poisoned Playgrounds’ petition in September which calls for a “comprehensive network of Clean Air Zones” across the UK, as well as new legislation to protect people from pollution.

The campaign says studies have shown that the health of children living within 150 metres of illegally polluted roads can be affected by traffic-related air pollution, and asks: “Is your child playing in a poisoned playground?”

So far, nearly 1,700 people have signed up to support the drive, which has a map tool on its website for people to check how close their local schools are to polluted roads.

A striking video accompanying the petition shows children running around a playground wearing heavy-duty gas masks.

ClientEarth revealed that at least 950 schools across the country are either on or near roads with illegal levels of dirty air.


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