Government delays its air quality plan days before publication

A request by the Government to delay a report on air pollution until after the General Election has been described as "far from acceptable".

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was ordered by the courts to publish enhanced measures by Monday after its plans for meeting the EU's air quality requirements were deemed inadequate.

But with one working day to go before that deadline, DEFRA asked for the publication date to be pushed back to June.

The move has provoked anger from campaigners, with environmental lawyers accusing the Government of leaving its deferral to the "very last minute".

James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, said: "These plans are essential to safeguard public health and they should be put in place without delay.

"This is not a political issue but a public health issue.

"Whichever party is in power, the British public needs to see an air quality plan which relies on good scientific evidence and which ensures that people no longer have to breathe toxic air and suffer the grave consequences to their health as a result."

One policy which has recently been proposed by London mayor Sadiq Khan is a £24 daily charge for motorists who use polluting cars in the capital.

The controversy comes as analysis commissioned by the Labour Party suggests close to 40 million people in the UK are living in areas with pollution levels which could endanger their health.

The research, seen by The Guardian, said many towns and cities have nitrogen dioxide levels in violation of the legal limit - including Birmingham, Leeds, Richmond and Sheffield.

Labour told the newspaper the pollution crisis was a "national scandal".