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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

European Commission hints at further legal action over London’s air pollution

The European Commission has revealed this week that it is deciding whether it will take further legal action against the UK over plans to meet EU air quality standards in London. The UK missed its deadline this year for tackling high levels of harmful airborne particles (PM10) and has submitted an application for a delay until 2011. However, if the Government has failed to meet the Commission’s conditions it seems that it will now face escalating legal action.

In February this year, the UK was sent a first warning letter concerning breach of the PM10 standards. The recent application for a delay will have to prove that the UK and London can meet the standards by 2011 – if the application does not meet the Commission’s conditions then ‘appropriate legal action’ will be taken. The decision is likely to be made by the end of this year, much earlier than previously expected.

While the Mayor of London published his Draft Air Quality Strategy in October, it is doubtful that the measures proposed for addressing transport emissions will produce the results required to meet the EU standards.

The Mayor’s strategy reveals that a number of projects remain unfunded and are thus not credible. Phase 3 of the London Low Emission Zone initiative, which was due to commence in October 2010, has been postponed until 2012, as have proposed measures aimed at reducing the negative impact of London’s taxi fleet on the city’s air quality. The Mayor has also repeatedly stated that the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge will be removed by the end of 2010 with only vague measures being outlined as to how the negative air quality impacts of this move will be mitigated.

Jean Lambert, London’s Green Party MEP, said:

“Given the proposals in London’s draft Air Quality Strategy it seems clear that the UK does not have a credible plan to fully comply with agreed EU standards for PM10. If the Commission also finds that London’s plans are not satisfactory then it should waste no time in rejecting the Government’s application to delay meeting the standards and proceed with legal action.

“Far too many Londoners are dying prematurely every year due to poor air quality and thousands more are suffering from chronic breathing problems. With Copenhagen just around the corner, it is time Europe showed its determination to urgently and dramatically reduce air pollution.”