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In a high profile judgment, the Administrative Court has declared unlawful the Government’s 2015 Air Quality Plan, requiring further steps to meet the UK’s obligation to reduce Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) concentrations across the country.

This claim follows earlier proceedings, in which ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, had successfully sought relief against the Government for breaching the EU Air Quality Directive (and its equivalent domestic regulations, the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010), before the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had ordered the production, by December 2015, of an Air Quality Plan designed to reduce exceedances of the maximum limits of NO2 as soon as possible.

In his judgment today, Mr Justice Garnham concluded that the Secretary of State had committed an error of law in her approach to ensuring compliance “in the shortest possible time”, in accordance with Article 23(1) of the Directive and Regulation 26(2). This duty required the Secretary of State to “aim to achieve compliance by the soonest date possible” and to “choose a route to that objective which reduces exposure as quickly as possible”. The Court held that she must also “take steps which mean meeting the value limits is not just possible, but likely” (at [95(i)]). Instead, Defra had (i) fixed on a projected compliance date of 2020 (and 2025 for London) and (ii) adopted modelling for future emissions that was too optimistic. 

The Court’s determination of the appropriate relief in this case will follow.

The full judgment can be read here

Ben Jaffey and Ravi Mehta acted for the Claimant.


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