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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

EU says UK still failing on air pollution – “Boris needs to act now,” says London’s Green MEP

Jean Lambert MEP, London’s Green Party Member of the European Parliament, today expressed her disappointment that the EU Commission had accepted the UK’s application to be given more time to meet EU air pollution standards.  The Government’s revised proposals have to be with the Commission by November this year.[1]  However, the Commission has demanded short-term measures for days when pollution levels go over the limits set by law.

The UK Government had requested to be given until 2011 to meet daily limit values of dangerous airborne particles, known as PM10 [2]. Greater London has exceeded these limits since 2005 and as a result the UK received its first warning in 2009 and its final warning in June 2010 for breaching EU air pollution levels.

Jean Lambert, the Green Party MEP for London, said: “It is simply not acceptable for the Government to shirk its responsibilities in tackling air pollution and protecting the health of its people.  An estimated 4,300 people die prematurely every year in London because of poor air quality [3]. This is a tragedy for their families, a cost to the health service and could be avoided. This disappointing decision means the health of Londoners will continue to be put at risk by the UK Government’s failure to act on air pollution.

“The Commission has recognised this failure and made it clear that Government proposals to tackle the problem have to work if the UK is to avoid further, potentially expensive, legal action.

“The London Mayor’s failure on air quality is also clear. He now has to come up with emergency measures to tackle the problem on a daily basis. Other cities in the EU have introduced drastic measures to limit traffic when pollution levels are high. Maybe Boris should consider tripling the congestion charge on bad days?

“His scrapping of the congestion charge western extension demonstrates a failure to get to grips with London’s chronic air pollution and is an obvious measure to help tackle the underlying problem.”

The Commission’s acceptance of the UK’s request for more time does not rule out further infringement action – which could include taking the UK to the European Court of Justice for its failure to tackle air pollution – but it does delay any such action.


Notes to editors

[1] The 2008 Air Quality Directive allows Member States, under strict conditions, time extensions for meeting the air quality standards for PM10 (until 11 June 2011) and NO2 and benzene (until 2015 at the latest). During the extension period, limit values continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance. The Commission’s decision can be viewed here.

Mrs Lambert met with the office of the European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potocnik, in December 2010 to press the Commission to take robust action against the UK Government to compel it to meet EU air quality standards, and to reject it’s application for an extension.  The meeting also included Simon Birkett of the Campaign for Clean Air in London, and Labour MEP Claude Moraes.

As part of the meeting with the Commission it was pointed out that:

– the Government’s monitoring site on Marylebone Road, as detailed in the application as the site used to represent the worst air pollution in London, is not representative. At least five other sites across the capital recorded greater daily values of PM10 in 2010.  Comparisons can be found at

– the Government’s application also included the benefits of the proposed western extension of the congestion charge zone, a proposal the Mayor of London has now scrapped.

– the UK failed to demonstrate it will comply with the limit values by 2011 by using flawed methodologies and including no margin for error in its application.

[2] Limit values for PM10 impose both an annual average concentration value of 40 micrograms (μg)/m3, and a daily concentration value of 50 μg/m3 which must not be exceeded more than 35 times per calendar year. These entered into force on 1 January 2005.

[3] To read the Institute of Occupational Medicine’s full report on ‘estimation of mortality impact of particular air pollution in London’ visit