The Government may shelve a clean air plan which it was mandated to produce by the High Court to tackle illegal pollution levels in UK cities, due to rules which restrict the activity of the civil service during an election period.
The civil service is about to enter “purdah” - a word used to described the period between the time an election is announced and the date it is held.
In this period, government departments are subject to strict rules about policy announcements which could benefit a political party.
After a legal challenge by environmental lawyers Client Earth last year, the Government was ordered to produce a draft of a new national air quality plan by 24 April.
The judge ruled that two previous government plans were inadequate to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis, which causes more than 40,000 premature deaths a year, and costs the UK around £27.5 billion annually, according to government estimates.
However, the Civil Service has said purdah will officially begin on Saturday, April 22, which has led to speculation about the future of the scheme.
James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, said: “The High Court ordered the government to prepare its draft Air Quality Plan by Monday 24 April at 4pm.
“If the Government does not intend to comply with that ruling, and wants to change that legal deadline then it will have to go back to court to seek permission.”
The charity also accused the government of “dither and delay on everything from climate change to clean air to the natural environment.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told The Independent only that the plan would be published “in due course”, and did not confirm whether the Monday deadline would be met or not.
Last year, the Government declared air pollution a "public health emergency", but environmental charities say far more comprehensive action is required to tackle urban pollution.
In January, London breached its annual air pollution limits in the first five days of 2017.
A spokesperson for road safety charity Brake said: “Air pollution in the UK has become a major public health emergency. It contributes to 40,000 deaths each year, with vehicle pollution being a significant factor.
"The government has been dragging its heels on this issue. It needs to take swift, radical action to reduce vehicular emissions.