Important information on how ongoing legal action could make development more challenging in areas of poor air quality

Impact of EU Legal Action on Air Quality Assessments

Obtaining planning permission in urban areas where air quality is poor (London in particular) will likely become much more challenging as local authorities fear financial repercussions from the European Court of Justice.
Following the UK’s failure to meet EU limit values set by the Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC), ClientEarth, who describe themselves as a group of “activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet”, has been pursuing the UK government through the European Court of Justice.  
The European Commission has powers to fine the UK and 27 other member states who currently breach the limits. However, it has said that it will not intervene unless the UK legal process is exhausted without satisfactory resolution.
ClientEarth’s latest action claims that the UK government’s revised plans to help it work towards achieving the limit values are insufficient, being too little too late. These revised plans include Clean Air Zones and economic incentives for the handful of cities where pollution hotspots are of greatest concern. ClientEarth is seeking to have these plans struck down in order for newer, more stringent measures to be introduced.
The likely outcome is that local authorities will be required to bolster their Air Quality Action Plans (AQAPs) in order to deliver the necessary air quality improvements that many AQAPs have failed to provide so far. Any financial penalties levied by the EU for air quality limit breaches would then be passed down to the local authorities, who are already strapped for cash. The onus would therefore be on the local authorities to ensure that their ongoing AQAPs are robust and effective if they are to avoid being stung by fines.  
Understandably, many councils consider this unfair as many of the air quality issues affecting urban areas cannot be managed without central government intervention to promote national measures to effectively reduce emissions, particularly from road traffic.
The upshot for developers who want to build in urban areas affected by poor air quality is that they will find it much more challenging to gain planning approval without substantial measures to reduce or offset the air quality impacts of their schemes.
It will therefore become much more important that assessments of air quality impacts from proposed developments include robust measures to mitigate impacts.
If you would like further guidance on this, please contact us so that we can discuss the implications for any schemes you might be concerned about.   
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