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Supreme Court finds UK in breach of air pollution standards

4th June, 2013

The UK government has failed in its legal duty to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution, the Supreme Court has ruled. This could be significant for future decisions on airport expansion.

Air pollution around Heathrow already exceeds levels set by the UK and EU to protect human health. A new runway, with consequential increases in emissions from aircraft and surface access (particularly for private cars and goods vehicles), could increase the probability of either European or UK courts taking action against the UK government.

As far as AEF is aware, air pollution does not breach legal limits around other airports though in some cases NO2 levels on airport access roads come close to those limits.

The Airports Commission recently published ‘sift criteria’ for its consideration of new airport proposals, which state that ‘where any risk of exceeding air quality thresholds is identified, scheme developers should explain how they would mitigate these effects to comply with the legal frameworks governing this issue’.

A press release from Client Earth, a group of campaigning lawyers which brougth the case to court, is available here. Further action from the Supreme Court, such as a mandate for the Government to undertake measures to improve air quality, will depend on the outcome of a number of questions that the UK court has referred to the European Court of Justice.

The story was covered by a number of news outlets including this write-up from John Vidal at the Guardian.