After dithering for too long, the European Commission is finally taking Britain to court for failing to clean-up inner-city air quality.

Legal proceedings were kicked off today by Stavros Dimas, the EU’s environment commissioner. If found guilty, Britain faces unlimited daily fines until the pollution is reduced.

The EU Commission says it has "started infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to comply with the EU's air quality standard for dangerous airborne particles known as PM10. These particles can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer and premature death."

Around 20 built-up areas in the UK are thought to be busting through the limits. Places such as Oxford Street in London, central Oxford and Manchester’s Piccadilly are among the most polluted.

The culprits are, of course, diesel-powered commercial traffic, buses and taxis. I have long ranted and raved about the lunacy of running heavy diesel vehicles in stop-start traffic.

If there’s a better way of spraying busy pavements with health-damaging pollutants, I can’t think of it.

Not that your local ‘green’ campaigner will have much to say about the risk of asthma, decreased lung function, lung diseases and smog formation. As we all know, Co2 – an otherwise locally benign gas – is the real enemy.

Of course, the rest of the world is way ahead of us in cleaning up the streets. Diesel cars were effectively banned in California in 1990 and now all buses in LA run on ultra clean-burning compressed natural gas. Even delivery vans in LA are either gas or electrically-powered.

Tokyo also uses CNG buses as does New York, Delhi and Hong Kong. Cities such as Beijing and Barcelona are also switching to over gas. Mercedes and Fiat are now also offering their taxi models in CNG form.

Indeed, many European cities are now restricting entry to vehicles based on an engine’s pollution rating – not its theoretical Co2 output.

Britain has had years to comply with these entirely admirable clean-air regulations. And, unlike the rest of Europe, we did nothing about it.

Take ex-London mayor, and self-proclaimed environmentalist, Ken Livingstone. What was he doing between 2000 and 2008 to meet pollution laws laid down years ago?

It’s ironic to think that Mr Livingstone wanted to price cars with large petrol engines (which emit very, very low levels of pollution) off the road with £25 daily C-charge fee, while planing to drop the C-charge exemption for gas-powered vehicles, which are the cleanest of the lot.

Meanwhile, the capital still has 21,000 aged and belching black cabs and 8500 new diesel -rather than gas - buses. According to the EU, 125 miles of road in London are currently over the pollution limits. And it’s likely to be a similar story in the UK’s other big cities.

Well, I have a suggestion for the new Mayor of London.

Apart from getting on with Autocar's electric Routemaster concept ( he should replace the 21,000 black cabs with 21,000 (similarly-priced) V6 petrol Porsche Cayennes. Air quality would improve dramatically overnight.