And making you pay for the privilege
by Felicity Collier
THE government has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal bills as it tries to avoid tackling killer air pollution that is so toxic it is illegal.
Legal fees of almost £400,000 have been recklessly racked up in a series of court cases over the last six years, environmental law firm ClientEarth reported yesterday.
But taxpayers could foot an even higher bill once the most recent court costs are included — and farcical new government plans could prompt further legal action.
ClientEarth first confronted the government in court in 2011 over its refusal to act to keep poisonous nitrogen dioxide levels within EU limits, winning cases in both the High Court and Supreme Court.
It won another legal challenge in 2016 when judges demanded that the government publish new plans for improving air quality this year, as previous measures were shockingly poor.
The government has now announced that it will ban new diesel and petrol cars and vans in Britain — but not until 2040.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said a wait of more than two decades would leave it “too late,” branding the current situation a “public health emergency.” She said: “Countries like Norway, Germany, India are all moving much more quickly — they’re looking at 2025 or 2030.
“In the meantime, people are dying right now from causes related to air pollution.”
Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and is linked to childhood illnesses, heart disease and dementia.
In April, ministers used the general election as an excuse to delay draft plans, which they were then forced to publish in May.
Former Labour MP and environment expert Alan Simpson said the government was “studiously avoiding complying with the law,” calling the Tories’ actions “politically dishonest from the word go” and “perverse.”
He pointed out that the 2040 deadline was not in Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s political lifetime, saying: “It’s a brilliant plan for anyone who can hold their breath for 23 years.”
Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Oliver Hayes said: “It’s outrageous that the government seems to be choosing to chance their arm in the courtroom rather than meet their legal and moral obligations to protect the nation’s health.
“The British people are paying the price for this inaction twice over, as taxpayers and through the cost to their health.”