Legal challenges to London’s air pollution

The European Commission will start legal proceedings against the government over breaches of air quality standards in London. A central London community group is also mounting a challenge.

The European Commission’s decision came to light in a letter sent by EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas to Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey, who is concerned about air quality in his London constituency.

The letter notes that six areas of the UK failed to meet daily or annual limits on fine particulates (PM10) in 2007. Such failures are particularly notable in London, which has exceedances along some 200 kilometres of its roads (ENDS Report 404, pp 20-21).

The limits became mandatory in 2005 but a later Directive permitted governments to apply for more time to meet them (ENDS Report 395, p 52). The government confirmed it would do so in August last year but has yet to officially notify the Commission. As the deadline was 31 October, infringement proceedings are now being prepared.

The MP is currently attempting to secure a debate in the Commons on the looming prosecution.

Mr Dimas’ letter also brings attention to the Janecek case, which established the right of individuals to require competent authorities to draw up action plans where air quality limit values are at risk of being breached (ENDS Report 404, pp 48-49).

Knightsbridge in central London is subject to serious breaches of air quality limits for both PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In line with the Janecek case, local amenity group the Knightsbridge Association has instructed Environment Secretary Hilary Benn to take action to minimise the likelihood of breaches in the neighbourhood. This appears to be a first attempt to use these rights in the UK.

The Association has also challenged the legality of the Mayor of London’s decision to scrap the western extension of the congestion charge zone, which includes Knightsbridge. The move is likely to worsen air quality where it has attained limit values for PM10 and may be illegal under the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2007 unless equivalent measures are put in place.

The group requests Mr Benn to issue Directions to the Mayor requiring limit values for NO2 and PM10 to be attained and then not exceeded.

A possible solution could be establishing one or more inner-London low-emission zones.

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