Government under fire after High Court defeat on air quality plan

Within the report was the British government's plan to tackle the relatively high levels of air pollution in the U.K. The high court, on ruling on the government's plan, judged the government's actions to be illegal, forcing the way for the report to be published.

It ordered the draft plans to be published on May 9, five days after the local elections, but before the general election on June 8.

The Government has lost its bid to delay publication of its long-awaited air pollution plan.

The High Court ruled in November the Government's plan for tackling air pollution - which is believed to be responsible for 40,000 unexplained deaths a year - was so bad it was actually illegal.

Nathalie Lieven QC, for ClientEarth, said the Government's application did not identify sufficient grounds to justify a delay until after the General Election.

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That judgment ordered ministers to come up with a plan to bring down air pollution to within legal limits as soon as possible.

"The judge wasn't having any of it, though, ruling that an imminent threat to public health was more important than purdah: "[Purdah] does not give ministers a defence to the principles of private and public law.

He added: "I hope that after this appalling delay, this Government delivers a strong plan to finally get a grip on this issue and urgently introduces a diesel scrappage fund to rid our streets of the dirtiest cars". Government lawyers argued the publication would drop a "controversial bomb" into the mix of local and national elections.

Almost 40,000 deaths in the United Kingdom each year are linked with air pollution.

Defra's application centred on the argument that launching the plan for consultation could restrict input from local authorities due to imminent local council elections.

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The court heard the government's draft plan is ready to be published, and were it not for the start of purdah for both the general and local elections the consultation document would already be in the public domain. "Air pollution is a serious public health crisis and must be an urgent priority for the next government".

The British government had wanted to keep the report into the extent of air pollution in the United Kingdom secret, at least until the June General Election was over.

And Jenny Bates, a Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said "protecting the nation's health has rightly been placed above political process", saying that "every delay in action costs lives".

'Toxic air left unchecked will lead to a rising tide of ill health for everyone, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

There has been speculation the government's clean air plan could include potentially controversial measure such as charges for motorists to drive diesel vehicles, which cause much of the pollution, in towns and cities.

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