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 January 11, 2012
Exclusive: Client Earth appeals against High Court air pollution ruling

 Client Earth yesterday informed the government it is seeking to appeal against a High Court ruling, which found that environment secretary Caroline Spelman violated air quality laws by failing to address high levels of urban pollution, but stopped short of ordering the coalition to release its plans for tackling air pollution.

Spelman was last month forced to admit that her department had breached the EU's Air Quality Directive when it drafted air quality plans that would fail to sufficiently reduce nitrogen pollution levels in many parts of the UK.

But green group Client Earth believes the High Court ruling did not go far enough and has now requested an appeal against the decision.

The Department of Environment Food and Rural affairs (Defra) last year consulted on a range of measures designed to bring NO2 within legal limits by 1 January 2015, including proposals to encourage more local councils to introduce low-emissions zones for road transport.

However, draft plans showed that 17 of the air quality zones, including London, would still fail to achieve compliance by 2015, meaning the UK could potentially face multimillion-pound fines from Brussels for failing to hit the target.

Following the consultation, Client Earth launched legal action against Defra in December, seeking two outcomes: a declaration that the plans were unlawful, and a mandatory order for Defra to improve them.

But while the judge agreed the rules had been breached he concluded that any enforcement action was a matter for the European Commission and refused to order Defra to outline plans for cutting pollution levels.

Alan Andrews, Client Earth's health and environment lawyer, told BusinessGreen that last week it applied for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, and yesterday served notice on Defra.

The group believes it is within a national government's power to enforce the EU laws, and is calling on the court to rethink its interpretation of the directive.

"We are seeking leave to appeal because we don't believe this needs to go to the European Commission," he said.

"The directive requires the government to produce plans that will achieve NO2 limits by 2015 at the latest, and it is for the national court to force them to do this."

Andrews predicted a hearing would not take place before mid-February if its application is successful, because it has not yet received a transcript from the case or drafted a skeleton argument