The government’s draft plan for combating air pollution must be published before the general election, a High Court judge has ruled.

Lawyers representing Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary, asked a High Court judge for a 6-week extension for publication of a draft air quality plan until after the June 8 general election.

The plan, which had been ordered by the High Court last November, was supposed to be published last Friday but the government asked for a delay.

It argued that the plan should be covered by purdah – the convention designed to stop political parties using the machinery of government for electoral advantage in the run up to elections.

On Thursday Mr Justice Garnham dismissed the government’s application for a delay and ordered the draft Air Quality Plan to be published by May 9 – after the local elections on May 4.

In his ruling he said that the government should not use purdah as a “defence …not to comply with court orders.” “It is not a trump card to be deployed at will by one litigant” the judge said.

In his ruling the judge said that the government remained in breach of its obligations and there remained a “continued threat to public health” noting figures that there were an estimated 64 deaths a day from nitrogen dioxide.

James Eadie QC, representing the government, had argued that the draft plan was “ready to go” but should be delayed because of so-called purdah election rules designed to stop political parties using the machinery of government for electoral advantage.

The government’s application to delay publication of the report to late June had been opposed by Client Earth, an environmental group which had brought earlier legal challenges on air pollution.

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