Local air quality management: policy guidance

Guidance to help local authorities with their local air quality management (LAQM) duties under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995.

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose of guidance

This guidance is intended to help local authorities with their local air quality

management (LAQM) duties under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995[1]. It sets out:

  • The statutory background and the legislative framework within which local authorities have to work.
  • The principles behind reviews and assessments of air quality and the recommended steps that local authorities should take.
  • How local authorities should handle the designation, amendment and revocation of Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and the drawing up and implementation of action plans.
  • Suggestions for taking forward the development of local air quality strategies.
  • Suggestions on how local authorities should consult and liaise with others.
  • The role of transport-related measures in improving air quality.
  • The general principles behind air quality and land use planning.
  • The effects of biomass on air quality.
  • The relationships between air quality and noise policy.

This guidance is issued by the Scottish Ministers under section 88(1) of the 1995 Act. Local authorities should have regard to it when undertaking their LAQM duties, as required under section 88(2) of the Act. The guidance should be taken into account by all local authority departments involved in LAQM, including environmental health, corporate services, planning, economic development and transport planning. The guidance complements the information and advice contained in Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 – Towards a Better Place for Everyone (CAFS2)[2], which was published in July 2021, and these documents should therefore be read in conjunction.

Section 12 of this guidance on air quality and land use planning, in particular, should be read together with National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4)[3] and Planning Advice Note (PAN) 51: Planning, Environmental Protection and Regulation[4]. The guidance may be material in preparing development plans and in determining planning applications. It will also be of interest to others involved with LAQM, and those whose actions may impact on local air quality.

The Scottish air quality website and database[5] provides a wide range of resources to support local authorities in their LAQM work, and authorities are strongly encouraged to make full use of this.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has an important role to play in LAQM through the control of emissions to atmosphere from regulated industrial processes, the provision of information on these processes, as a statutory consultee for development control, providing air quality modelling and data analysis to deliver the National Modelling Framework (NMF) and as a statutory consultee on air quality review and assessment reports and action plans. In addition, SEPA, acting with the approval of Scottish Ministers, has reserve powers under section 85 of the 1995 Act to require local authorities in Scotland to take action where they are failing to make sufficient progress. If it appears to SEPA that:

  • Air quality standards or objectives are not being achieved or not likely to be achieved within the relevant time period within an area of a local authority
  • a local authority has failed to discharge any duty imposed on it by virtue of Part IV of the Act
  • the actions or proposed actions of a local authority in compliance with provisions of this Part IV of the Act are inappropriate in all circumstances
  • developments in science or technology, or material changes in circumstances have rendered inappropriate the actions or proposed actions of a local authority in pursuance of Part IV of the Act

Then, subject to this approval of Scottish Ministers, SEPA may give directions to a local authority requiring it to take any steps as may be specified in the directions. These may include, but are not limited to directions that it:

  • Carry out an air quality review and assessment under section 82 of the 1995 Act.
  • Repeat an air quality review and assessment in whole or in part.
  • Make an order designating an AQMA.
  • Revoke/modify any order.
  • Prepare an action plan.
  • Modify any action plan.
  • Implement any measures in an action plan.

The Scottish Government and SEPA work, as far as possible, with local authorities to ensure the requirements of the 1995 Act are fulfilled satisfactorily. If a local authority is experiencing problems or delays with meeting the requirements of LAQM they should contact SEPA and the Scottish Government. As referred to above, where a local authority has failed to discharge any duty imposed on it under or by virtue of Part IV of the 1995 Act, SEPA, acting with the approval of Scottish Ministers, may issue directions to local authorities.

Where specific timescales or actions are stated in this guidance, this also does not preclude SEPA from selecting what it thinks is the most appropriate level of enforcement for securing compliance at a particular time and this may mean SEPA progressing straight to issuing a final warning letter or direction on a local authority if it is determined to be merited.

The Scottish Government and SEPA are committed to building and maintaining good working relationships with the local authorities on LAQM. It is anticipated that in the majority of cases a satisfactory resolution can be achieved before the use of SEPA’s reserve direction-making powers is required. The Scottish Government and SEPA will remain in dialogue with the local authority in question and continue to provide support while a resolution is being worked towards.

This policy guidance, the accompanying technical guidance (LAQM.TG22) and CAFS2 are the primary guidance documents to which local authorities should have regard when carrying out their air quality review and assessment work. This guidance updates the previous LAQM policy guidance published in March 2023 (and which replaced previous versions from 2016 to 2018).

1.2 Update of Local Air Quality Management Policy Guidance

Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 – Towards a Better Place for Everyone was published in July 2021, setting out the air quality policy framework to 2026. Amongst the wide range of actions included in the strategy is a commitment to review the LAQM policy guidance.

In November 2021 Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) announced its first investigation would consider air quality, specifically focusing on compliance with the nitrogen dioxide limit value set in the Air Quality Standards (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (which had implemented Directive 2008/50/EC prior to the UK’s exit from the EU).

Three of the six recommendations made by ESS following their investigation were to strengthen the effectiveness of the LAQM regime in place to improve air quality in Scotland. The revisions made to the LAQM policy guidance in 2023 incorporated the ESS recommendations to strengthen the LAQM regime and only covered Sections 1 – 9 of this guidance concerning the local authority duties surrounding LAQM. This 2024 update contains further updates to the local authority duties surrounding LAQM (sections 1 – 9) and provides fully updated information on air quality-related policy areas (sections 10 – 13).

1.3 Resources

Since 1997/98, resources have been made available in the local government finance settlement to help local authorities with their duties under the 1995 Act. This provision is not ring fenced however and decisions on expenditure are entirely a matter for local authorities, in the light of their statutory duties and local circumstances. The amount of provision made available to each local authority varies depending on factors such as the population and area of the authority.

From 1 April 2008 a further non ring-fenced allocation has been made as part of the General Capital Grant introduced following the signing of the Concordat between the Scottish Ministers and the COSLA Presidential Team in November 2007. This replaces the former air quality monitoring capital grant scheme. Additional funding support is provided, again from 1 April 2008, for work connected with AQMAs and action plans. This is allocated on an annual basis through an application system.

In early 2024, the Air Quality Action Plan and Vehicle Emissions Testing grant schemes were reviewed and have now been merged into one single grant scheme to deliver a more targeted approach to air quality improvement measures linked to local authority action plans, strategies and/or Annual Progress Reports (APRs) that is open to all local authorities.

1.4 Air quality and public health

There is scientific consensus that exposure to air pollution is harmful to people’s health in terms of premature mortality and morbidity, mainly related to respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Using the recommended approach of the WHO and based on previous work undertaken by the UK’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP), in 2018 Health Protection Scotland (HPS) provided an estimate of approximately 1,700 attributable (premature) deaths in Scotland annually[6].

It is important for local authorities to consider public health as part of the LAQM process. Working in partnership with local health boards will increase support for measures to improve air quality, with co-benefits for all concerned.


Email: andrew.taylor2@gov.scot

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