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2017 UK Air Quality Plan

The government published its 2017 UK Air Quality Plan on 26 July 2017, following legal challenge.

High Court intervention

In November 2016, the High Court ruled that the government’s 2015 plan for tackling air pollution was illegal because it failed to take sufficient measures to improve air pollution 'as soon as possible'. In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May stated that they would ‘have to look again at the proposals that we will bring forward’, in light of the courts’ judgement.

Plans to tackle air pollution

In accordance with court orders, the government published a draft air quality plan to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in the UK on 5 May 2017, and a final national air quality plan on 26 July 2017.

In the final document, the government acknowledged air pollution’s harmful impact on public health, the environment, and the economy and set out its plans to reduce roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the UK.

The plan included commitments to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, and to provide help to local authorities by:

  • setting up a £255m Implementation Fund and a Clean Air Fund to support local authorities to plan and implement air quality improvement measures
  • assigning £100m for retrofitting and new low emission buses.


The 2017 UK air quality plan was poorly received by many councils, health professionals, and industry leaders. Leaders of Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Leicester and Oxford city councils criticised the plan in an open letter to the environment secretary Michael Gove saying that it did not do enough to enable them to meet their legal commitments on air pollution. Industry leaders were disappointed by a lack of detail and the potential threat of the plan to jobs in car manufacturing.

2016 evidence from the Royal College of Paediatrics (RCP) that outdoor air pollution contributed to around 40,000 deaths annually in the UK had been significant in pressuring the UK government to act. However, in their follow-up report in 2018, RCP described the 2017 Air Quality Plan as a ‘missed opportunity’ and called for further government action.


Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Department for Transport.
Air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in UK (2017).
UK government; 2017.

House of Commons.
Commons Chamber: Engagements, 3 November 2016, Volume 616.
Hansard; 2016.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Department for Transport.
Improving air quality: national plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities.
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; 2017.

Oxford City Council.
Oxford City Council joins leaders from cities across England to criticise Government’s Clean Air Plan [webpage].
Oxford City Council; 2017.

Royal College of Physicians.
Reducing air pollution in the UK: Progress report 2018.
Royal College of Physicians of London; 2018.