After losing a case at the Supreme Court earlier today the next Government will be forced to act on air pollution. Judges ruled that the "Government must prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European Commission no later than December 31 2015." In a boost to those campaigning for less car travel and more walking and cycling, the judgement added "developing effective transport measures is regarded as a key priority for work and investment."
(Naturally, "effective transport measures" can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another but this ruling is another arrow in the armoury for the fight for reducing dependence on motor cars, especially for short urban journeys.)
The victory for clean air campaigners was due to a case brought five years ago by "activist lawyers" ClientEarth against the government for its ongoing breach of European Union law on limits of nitrogen dioxide in the air.
Announcing the Supreme Court's decision, Lord Carnwath ruled: "The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue."
Sian Berry from the Campaign for Better Transport welcomed the ruling: "Air pollution levels in towns and cities have been left out of transport planning for too long, and this judgement should be the wake-up call that shows much more action is needed to deal with the problem on the streets.
"Any new government plan to reduce the public health toll of air pollution absolutely must include new measures to reduce traffic levels and help more people to use public transport, walking and cycling to get around our cities.
"Action to cut traffic in these ways would have a dramatic effect in the short-term timescales needed, and would bring more benefits more quickly than policies that only encourage cleaner vehicles."
ClientEarth Lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the Supreme Court has upheld that right.”
“This ruling will benefit everyone’s health but particularly children, older people and those with existing health conditions like asthma and heart and lung conditions.
“The next Government, regardless of the political party or parties which take power, is now legally bound to take urgent action on this public health crisis. Before next week’s election all political parties need to make a clear commitment to policies which will deliver clean air and protect our health.”
Claire Francis, Head of Policy for Sustrans, said:
“It’s outrageous that something as fundamental to our basic needs as clean air must be fought for through legal proceedings in the highest court in the land.
“Poor air quality reduces life expectancy by an average of over eleven years; the failure of the Government in dealing with air pollution is a travesty and a national embarrassment.
“The next Government must act urgently to remedy the situation. That will mean serious, dedicated investment and an effective programme of action through the publication of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to help more people out of their polluting cars for short journeys.”