Pollution in London
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced in January that a toxic air alert had been issued for London after "very high" pollution levels. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


The British government is seeking to postpone the publication of its keenly-awaited air-pollution plan due to elections, raising the prospect a legal challenge.

The High Court had demanded ministers come up with a plan to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, largely caused by diesel emissions, by 14:00 today (24).

But the Downing Street office of Prime Minister Theresa May said today it had applied to the courts “to publish this plan by September 15” to allow for local election campaigning, and then for general election campaigning ahead of the nationwide June 8 vote.

“Following advice from the Cabinet Office, we sought a short extension to the publication of the draft plans” in order to comply with election rules, said a Downing Street spokesman.

“We remain firmly committed to further improving air quality,” he added.

ClientEarth, the environmental law firm which brought the original case, said it was considering a legal challenge to the extension.

“The unacceptable last minute nature of the government’s application late on Friday (21) night, after the court had closed, has meant that we have spent the weekend considering our response,” said chief executive James Thornton.

“We are still examining our next steps. This is a question of public health and not of politics and for that reason we believe that the plans should be put in place without delay.”

Air pollution contributes to the death of more than 40,000 people per year in Britain, according to official figures, with nitrogen dioxide a particular problem.