The European Commission has launched legal proceedings against the UK for ‘persistent air pollution problems’ and could impose fines of £300 million a year until agreed targets are met.
The action comes after the UK admitted it would be unable to meet the deadline for pollutant reduction which had been extended by five years to 2015.
While 17 other member states are also being taken to task for missing the targets, the UK is the first country to be prosecuted for missing targets on nitrous oxides rather than particulates.
The UK says it will miss the deadline in 16 of the 43 zones into which the country is divided. They are Greater London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, the Potteries, Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, the East, South East, East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire and Humberside, West Midlands and North East.
The aim is to meet reduction goals in most of the areas by 2020, although it is unlikely the targets will be met in London until 2025.
A Commission statement read, “Nitrogen oxides like NO2 are emitted by road vehicles, shipping, power generation, industry and households. They are a key component in increased levels of ground-level ozone which is very harmful to human health. “
Government now has two months to respond to the EC’s formal notice of its intention to prosecute.