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Chris Packham granted permission for judicial review of Government decision to abandon green policies

TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham CBE has been granted permission to challenge the Government in the High Court over its decision to abandon statutory green policies in its carbon budget delivery plans to keep the UK on target for net zero.

Posted on 04 March 2024

A judge will now decide whether it was unlawful for the Secretaries of State for Energy and Transport to decide to abandon the Government’s timetable to phase out petrol and diesel powered cars and vans, gas boilers, off-grid fossil fuel domestic heating, and minimum energy ratings for rented homes.

Mr Packham applied for a judicial review in autumn 2023 after the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that his Government was abandoning:

  • The accelerated transition to zero emission cars and vans by 2030 (the ZEV Policy).
  • The phasing out of new and replacement gas boilers by 2035 (the Heating and Buildings Package, and below).
  • A prohibition on installing fossil fuel heating in homes not connected to the gas grid from 2026.
  • A policy to require all privately rented homes to be EPC band C or better for all new tenancies from 2025 and all tenancies from 2028. 

The measures and the timetable to introduce these policies had been originally laid out in a Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) put before Parliament in March 2023. Those measures were only laid out before Parliament because of a successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth that the Net Zero Strategy did not include the necessary detail to make clear how the UK would reach net zero by 2050 as the Climate Change Act 2008 says it must.

After Mr Sunak announced he was ripping up the measures outlined in the CBDP, he did not confirm that the Government would still be able to meet its sixth carbon budget, or how it would do so in light of the abandoned policies, as is required by sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Mr Packham has been given the go-ahead to argue three grounds in court. The first is that the duty on the Government to have policies in place to ensure it can meet its commitments under the Climate Change Act is a continuing one. He will argue that it isn’t lawful for the Government to remove key policies from the CBDP, like the ZEV Policy and the Heat and Buildings Package, without having others in place to ensure the targets will still be met.

The second ground is that when taking the decision to abandon the policies, the Government failed to take mandatory and relevant considerations into account, including the impact of the decision on the achievement of the carbon budgets and the net zero target and advice from the Climate Change Committee (CCC). 

The third ground was that there was a failure to consult the public and key stakeholders before abandoning the policies, and a failure to even consider previous consultation responses that the public and key stakeholders had made to Government questions about the policies to be abandoned.

The High Court hearing will take place later in 2024.

Mr Packham is represented by Rowan SmithCarol Day and Julia Eriksen at Leigh Day and barristers David Wolfe KC (Matrix), Catherine Dobson (39 Essex Chambers) and Toby Fisher (Matrix).

Chris Packham said:

“The pledges which the government abandoned were important parts of the UKs plan to reach Net Zero in order to ameliorate the effects of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss which threaten life on our planet. Notably they, unlike some of the other parts of that strategy, were actually quantifiable, they were directly measurable in terms of carbon management . To abandon them without having comparable quantifiable measures in place was reckless and dangerous. To abandon them without seeking qualified advice was undemocratic and arrogant. At this crisis point we need robust leadership that listens to best informed advice, not short termism and politicking.”

Leigh Day solicitor Carol Day said:

“We are delighted Mr Justice Eyre has granted our client permission to advance these important grounds in the High Court. Mr Packham will argue that it cannot be lawful for the Government to abandon carefully thought out policies designed to achieve net zero targets without having other measures in place. It would make the Government's report to Parliament under the Climate Change Act nothing more than a snapshot in time.”

Carol Day
Environment Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Carol Day

Carol founded the firm's environmental litigation service in 2013

Julia Eriksen
Climate change Environment Human rights Planning

Julia Eriksen

Julia is an associate solicitor in the human rights team

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.