Too many cars. Not enough buses and trains. Investment in the wrong type of new buses. The wrong messages to cyclists and pedestrians. Official transport policy is toxic

Britain’s failure to act over the breaching of air pollution limits could be the longest running infringement of European Union law in history.

That is the opinion of lawyers from ClientEarth, addressing the European court of justice yesterday (10 July 2014).

Britain has exceeded the EU’s nitrogen dioxide pollution limit for four years and is likely to carry on doing so for years to come.

Nitrogen dioxide causes an estimated 29,000 deaths a year in Britain and is largely caused by diesel cars and lorries,

Now separate legal actions have been launched by environmental lawyers and the European Commission to try to persuade the British Government to take effective action.

Away from the court, scientists have reported that nitrogen dioxide concentrations on London’s Oxford Street are worse than anywhere else in the world.

“To my knowledge, this is the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean,” said David Carshaw of King’s College London.

“That is higher than Beijing and Dhaka, higher than anywhere where face masks are the norm.”

It is 11 times the EU limit.

Air pollution is a grave threat to health in Britain, said Philip Insall of Sustrans.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has been slow to wake up to the problem of pollution. One of his first actions on coming to power was to ditch the extension to the London congestion zone.

Mr Johnson tries to brush aside the criticism by claiming that levels of other pollutants are lower than in many world cities.

Encouraging rail freight, public transport, walking and cycling while putting more curbs on the volume and speed of road traffic is needed to reduce pollution.

What is worse, newer diesel vehicles, including the Mayor’s “new Routemaster”, emit even more nitrogen dioxide than older vehicles.

London Green councillor Jenny Jones said: “The news about air pollution seems to get worse, not better. Politicians at all levels of local and national Government have failed to take the decisive actions needed to reduce pollution.
Commentator Zoe Williams of the Guardian expects little action against pollution because the political atmosphere is “pretty toxic”.

Karl Mathiesen of the Guardian added: “The UK's efforts on nitrogen dioxide are the least effective in Europe.”

The Government is also still building new roads while cutting taxpayer support to buses and trains.

Maybe the European Court of Justice verdict will prompt the lazy-minded politicians to take more effective action.