UK must submit new air quality plans to EU by end of year

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, April 29 (Reuters) - The British government must submit new plans to the European Commission by Dec. 31 to tackle the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, the UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

The court said last year the government had breached an EU directive which puts a limit on certain air pollutants.

On nitrogen dioxide (NO2), member states were supposed to comply with the limits in 2010, but could extend that to 2015 if they delivered plans to deal with high levels of the gas, which is produced mainly by diesel engines and causes respiratory illnesses.

UK government data last year showed only five out of a total 43 pollution zones in Britain would comply by 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 by 2030. The remaining three zones - Greater London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas - will not even comply by 2030, the data showed.

"During the five years of breach, the prospects of early compliance have become worse, not better," judges said in a court ruling document.

Legal representation for Britain's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government intended to submit new air quality plans by the end of this year and that measures were planned to combat NO2, such as an ultra-low emissions zone in central London from 2020.

However, the Supreme Court issued a "mandatory" order which forces new plans to be prepared to a specific deadline, even if a different government is formed after the May 7 general election.

"The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue. The only realistic way to achieve this is a mandatory order requiring new plans (..) to be prepared within a defined timetable," judges said in the court ruling document. (Reporting by Nina Chestney, editing by Gareth Jones)

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