Three of Britain’s cities – London, Birmingham and Leeds – will exceed European air pollution limits until at least 2030, new figures suggest.
Under the EU’s Air Quality Directive, member states are meant to comply with limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2010 but could extend that to 2015 if they delivered plans to deal with high levels of the gas.
NO2 is mainly produced by diesel engines and is harmful to respiratory systems.
Data from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) showed only five out of the nation’s 43 pollution zones will comply with EU limits on NO2 levels by 2015 and three zones – Greater London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire – will not comply until after 2030.
The UK has exceeded the pollution limit since 2010, leading the European commission and environmental lawyers to launch separate legal actions against the government.
In a case at the European Court of Justice this week, Commission lawyers reportedly described the UK’s failure to act on the breach as “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are investing heavily in measures to improve air quality and have committed billions to increase uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport initiatives.
“As our understanding of NO2 evolves this must be reflected in our projections which is why we have revised these figures – work is underway to ensure compliance with EU limits in the shortest possible time.”