Dozens of clean air zones are expected to be announced on 9 May after the high court rejected a government application to delay draft air quality plans until after the general election.
Mr Justice Garnham rejected the government’s argument that the plans needed to be delayed to comply with “pre-election propriety rules”.
He ordered ministers to publish their draft plan next week, after local elections on 4 May, setting a deadline of 31 July for the publication of the government’s final policy on air pollution.
The judge also rejected a government application to appeal, saying that ministers would have to go to the appeal court if they wanted to seek permission to challenge his ruling.
The court decided that the threat to public health constituted “exceptional circumstances”, which outweighed purdah guidelines in the election run up, adding that immediate publication was “essential”.
Mr Garnham pointed to the government’s own figures, which show NOx emissions are linked to the premature deaths of 23,500 people a year in the UK, as evidence.
“That is more than 64 deaths each day,” he said.
This is the government’s second legal drubbing over its performance on tackling air pollution.
Last November, environmental campaigners ClientEarth successfully challenged DEFRA over its failure to take measures to reduce air pollution, resulting in the court ordering that the department’s draft pollution plans be published by 24 April 24.
Pallet-Track member ELB Partners recently warned that London's low emission plans could see hauliers turning their backs on delivering into the capital.