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Illegal levels of pollution in London

Are Londoners dying needlessly because the government is breaking the law on air pollution?

The Supreme Court has ruled today that the government is failing in its legal duty to protect people from the harmful effects of pollution.

Experts have claimed that poor air quality causes 4,000 early deaths among Londoners each year. This report is from Martin Stew.

London's fight for cleaner air

London's skyline Credit: PA

The Mayor’s team are proposing to introduce an ultra-low emission zone in the city centre, which it says has the potential to deliver dramaticbenefits in air quality. Boris Johnson also hopes it'll spur on mass take-up of zero and low emission vehicles.

But ClientEarth, the organisation which brought today's case, says current policies need to be made more ambitious.

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"Strenuous efforts" made to improve London's air

The Supreme Court has ruled the Government is breaking the law by not cutting air pollution levels in several cities including London. Levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide currently breach EU limits in the capital and campaigners say the Government should be doing more.

But the Mayor's office says emissions are down:

“Airquality in the capital is taken extremely seriously and strenuous efforts arebeing made to improve it. Since the Mayor took office emissions ofdangerous particulates (PM10) have fallen by 15% and of oxides of nitrogen by20% thanks to an ambitious package of measures including building Europe'slargest fleet of low emission hybrid buses, retiring the oldest taxis andintroducing tighter emission standards for lorries and vans.”

– A spokesperson for the Mayor of London

Government insists air is safe

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insists the UK's air is safe after a landmark ruling that the Government is failing in it's legal duty to protect people from the harmful effects of pollution.

“Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and almost all of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.”

– Defra spokesperson

A turning point in "the fight for clean air"

“This historic ruling marks a turning point inthe fight for clean air and will pile the pressure on Owen Paterson. Faced withcourt action on two fronts, he must now come up with an ambitious plan toprotect people from carcinogenic diesel fumes. Until now, his only policy hasbeen lobbying in Europe to try and weaken air pollution laws.”

“TheSupreme Court recognised that this case has broader implications for EUenvironmental law: The Government can’t flout environmental law with impunity.If the Government breaks the law, citizens can demand justice and the courtsmust act.”

– James Thornton, ClientEarth CE

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Government breaches air quality directive

ClientEarth is an environmental lawyers organisation that brought the case to the Supreme Court. It comes after the Court of Appeal declined an application for judicial review of the Government's plans to improve air quality.

Today Lord Carnwath JSC backed ClientEarth's case, ruling the Government is breaching article 13 of the EU Air Quality Directive.

Landmark air quality ruling

The sun rises over London's financial district Credit: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

ClientEarth says this is a landmark decision and paves the way for the European Commission to take legal action against the UK. London is one of 16 cities and regions in the UK included in the report.

The Supreme Court confirmed that because the Government is in breach of the EU Air Quality Directive “the way is open to immediate enforcement action at national or European level”.

However, before deciding whether to take further action toenforce the law, it has referred a number of legal questions to the Court ofJustice of the European Union.

Pictures: how the super sewer will reduce pollution

THE CURRENT SITUATION

At the moment, our sewers fill up when it rains - and untreated waste water spills out into the River Thames.

This diagram shows how waste water currently overflows into the River Thames. Credit: Thames Water.

THE PROPOSED SOLUTION

The new "super sewer" would divert the waste water away from the river.

When the super sewer is built, the sewage will be diverted away from the river. Credit: Thames Water.
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