An environmental campaigner from Canterbury, who is fighting the council’s plan for development in the area over fears local air quality could be significantly affected, has secured an important step in the latest stage of her legal battle.

A judge at the High Court has agreed that an appeal from law firm Leigh Day and on behalf of Emily Shirley against an earlier judgment which questioned why the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had not ‘called in’ the development plans due to existing air pollution in the area must be considered first.

This latest development means the client’s challenge to the strategic development plan will now await the judgment of the appeal in the first case.

The Local Plan proposes 16,000 new houses, mostly near Canterbury, on farmland outside the city boundary, with new slip roads, relief roads and further car-use-facilitating infrastructure. Ms Shirley argues that this will result in additional car journeys of up to 112,000 daily (based on the planning rule of thumb of seven vehicular movements per dwelling per day), adding significantly to Canterbury’s already congested and polluted roads.

Ms Shirley argues in her legal case that the Local Plan unlawfully allows existing breaches of air pollution within the Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) (1) to be exacerbated, contrary to the relevant EU Directive.

Canterbury is situated in a valley where air pollution accumulates in certain weather conditions. The predominant cause of this is from vehicle exhaust fumes. As a result of this the city was made subject to a central AQMA which had to be extended in 2011 due to the growing air pollution problem.

Also forming part of the case is the staggering statistic that air pollution in Canterbury is so bad that it contributes to 100 premature deaths annually and causes adverse impacts on the general health of the population especially for the young, the elderly and the weak. Emily Shirley said:

“The city council has a duty to protect and care for their residents. Put simply this plan does not do that. Air pollution is a silent killer. If we had 100 local residents disappearing on an annual basis, people would revolt, the council would be held to the highest account, yet we have that number of premature deaths from air pollution each year and the council are putting forward plans which will make that air quality significantly worse.

“It’s a staggering situation that needs urgently addressing by the people who were elected to office to maintain and improve Canterbury for the benefit of its residents.”

Solicitor Rowan Smith, from law firm Leigh Day, who are representing Ms Shirley, said:

“Our client’s dogged determination to protect her community from harmful air pollution has paid off. Although we pushed for an immediate decision on a full hearing, we are pleased that the judge has at least kept open that possibility, pending the outcome of the appeal in our client’s related challenge.

“For now, the argument over whether a local council should use planning powers to prevent the worsening and prolongation of breaches of air pollution limits remains live.”

(1) An Air Quality Management Area (“AQMA”) is put in place when a local authority considers that improvements to air quality need to be made, in order to achieve the Government’s national air quality objectives. The local authority then prepares a local action plan to ensure targets are met. The national objectives are designed to protect people’s health and the environment.