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Supreme Court rules UK Government must submit new plans to cut air pollution

29th April, 2015

In an announcement this morning, the UK Supreme Court ruled in favour of Client Earth that the Government must submit new plans to cut air pollution by the end of 2015. The panel of five judges unanimously ordered the Government to prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European Commission.

In May 2013, the Supreme Court declared that the UK was in breach of its obligations under the Air Quality Directive. The European Court of Justice then ruled that national courts can force governments to comply with EU rules, leading to today’s ruling.

The short time frame pushes the issue up the agenda for the next Government.

The ruling will also have a significant impact on whether building a new runway, particularly at Heathrow, would be compatible with meeting EU legal air quality limits. The Airports Commission concluded that building a third runway would have adverse to significantly adverse impacts on local air quality and the area is currently in breach of legal limits. Recent modelling indicated that under current plans, a two runway Heathrow would have the second worst air pollution in the UK by 2030. The Airports Commission also concluded that a Gatwick runway would have negative impacts on local air quality.

Options for tackling air pollution include low emission zones and congestion charging, as proposed by Heathrow in its submission to the Airports Commission. Yet, given the airport is not responsible for all of the traffic in the area, it will be reliant on the Government pushing through action across the UK to cut air pollution sufficiently to create the headroom for a new runway.

Our briefing on air pollution and airport expansion is available here.