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.

6. Air Quality Action Plans

Once an AQMA under section 83 comes into an operation, the local authority which made the order must then prepare and implement an air quality action plan. The Scottish Government expects the action plan to be prepared and implemented no later than 12 months post declaration. Action plans must outline how the local authority intends to tackle the issues identified and the time or times in which the local authority proposes to implement each of the proposed measures. Air quality action plans should focus on effective, feasible, proportionate and quantifiable measures which will contribute to reducing levels of air pollution with AQMAs and ensure that air quality objectives are achieved within the shortest possible time. An air quality action plan template has been developed which is available on request from SEPA at airquality@sepa.org.uk . All completed action plans should be submitted to the Scottish Government and SEPA for information and uploaded to the LAQM Portal.

Lengthy descriptions of the LAQM system are not necessary and action plans should be as concise as possible and targeted towards ensuring appropriate measures are taken to improve air quality and meet objectives within the shortest possible time, and that progress on these measures can be reported on quantitatively as well as qualitatively on an annual basis through the APR process.

Action plans should be produced in conjunction with the findings of the review and assessment process, source apportionment studies and any additional work which may have been carried out and progress reported on through the APR.

6.1 What to include in an action plan

There is no need to provide detailed background information on the local authority’s duties under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995 in the introduction to the action plan. It is enough to simply state that ‘this action plan has been developed in recognition of the legal requirement on the local authority to work towards air quality objectives under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995 and associated regulations.’ The statutory background should already have been adequately covered in APRs, which can be referenced in the action plan.

The action plan itself should have a more practical focus detailing specific measures to improve air quality and quantifying their impact in reducing contributions to air pollution over time. Data collected in the review and assessment process and from source apportionment studies should be used to quantify the potential impacts on emissions of particular measures and this information used to assist in the prioritisation process. Individual measures should be provided with milestones (for both total time and stages of the measure being implemented) and a final date for completion.

The action plan itself should have a timescale for completion and for revocation of the AQMA. The timescale for revocation should be within a short as possible time and no longer than the expected completion date of the longest term action plan measure. Where measures to reduce air pollution may require a longer timescale than initially anticipated, an action plan shall be reviewed and republished within five years of initial publication and then five-yearly thereafter. With each new action plan the date for revocation of the AQMA shall be reviewed and revised, with a justification provided for the decision.

An air quality action plan should include, as a minimum, the following:

  • A demonstration that the local air quality issues are clearly understood.
  • Where a screening exercise has been carried out under the National Low Emissions Framework (NLEF) the findings and conclusion of the assessment process.
  • A quantification of the source contributions to the predicted exceedances of the objectives for each pollutant being considered (allowing the action plan measures to be effectively targeted).
  • Evidence that all available options have been considered on the grounds of time for implementation and effect, cost effectiveness and feasibility.
  • How the local authority will use its powers and also work in conjunction with other organisations in pursuit of the air quality objectives.
  • Clear timescales in which the authority and other organisations and agencies propose to implement the measures within the plan and by which time they should have demonstrated the required reductions in air pollutants.
  • Expected date of completion of each of the proposed measures and the expected date for revocation of the AQMA(s).
  • Funding status (e.g. frequency/percentage of cost covered/match funding availability) and funding source of the proposed measures.
  • Quantification of the expected impacts of the proposed measures and, where possible, an indication as to whether the proposed measures will be sufficient to meet the objectives (in the current action planning cycle).
  • How the local authority intends to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the individual measures and the action plan as a whole.

The 1995 Act does not prescribe any timescale for preparing an action plan. However, the Scottish Government expects action plans to be completed, published and implemented within the shortest possible time and no later than 12 months of the date of the AQMA designation order.

Where more than one AQMA is being considered the local authority may submit either individual or combined action plans depending on what is most appropriate for the local circumstances. Where individual action plans are developed, each must follow the guidance and processes described in this section.

6.2 Partnership working

Local authorities should take a joined-up approach, in line with the Place Principle[11], towards the action planning process, which should involve environmental health, climate change/sustainability, planning, transport and corporate services departments, besides any other parts of the authority that may have a role to play in contributing to meeting the air quality objectives.

Some local authorities will also need to work with neighbouring authorities due to the nature of the air quality problem, or because measures they wish to take may have effects elsewhere. In such cases, the Scottish Government strongly recommends that consideration be given to developing regional air quality action plans. Action plans should also take account of other related strategies and plans such as Regional/Local Development Plans, Local Transport Strategies and Environmental Noise Action Plans which may help contribute to improving air quality and also have co-benefits in other policy areas.

6.3 Integrated policy

The Scottish Government acknowledges the need for a co-ordinated policy response to the interrelated issues of air pollution and climate change. It is therefore of critical importance that as local authorities develop their air quality action plans, they also consider integrating their plans with climate change action. Greenhouse gases and air pollutants share many of the same sources, such as the combustion of fossil fuels, energy for transport and land use practices. Some air pollutants (such as nitrogen oxides) contribute to the formation of greenhouse gases and others, notably black carbon, make a significant contribution to both atmospheric warming and worsening air quality. There is significant overlap between measures taken to address climate change and those taken to reduce air pollution. This presents local authorities with opportunities to take “win-win” action that mitigates climate change and improves local and national air quality.

A report commissioned in 2016 by the Cleaner Air for Scotland Governance Group[12] identifies six key sectors capable of reducing Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions while supporting reductions in air pollution levels through policy integration. The report identifies 38 recommendations that present strong evidence of synergies in maximising benefits in climate change in the air quality action plan. Some key actions that have multiple co-benefits through the action planning process are:

  • Significantly increasing the long-term investment in active travel to increase walking and cycling in towns and cities. This can be accomplished by funding active travel initiatives, school streets projects, urban planning and car share schemes. Policy should be joined up with planning authorities, noise action plans, transport policy, and local development plans helping to reduce traffic on roads, air pollution, noise pollution, carbon emissions and to encourage active travel for a healthy lifestyle.
  • Introducing low emission zones (LEZs) into urban areas to regulate for air pollution and climate change emissions simultaneously. LEZs are being implemented in Scotland’s four largest cities, with Glasgow being the first to begin enforcement in the summer of 2023. LEZs are expected to reduce nitrogen dioxide and other internal combustion pollutants to improve air quality and reduce dominance of private cars which contribute to both air pollution and climate emissions. It is also likely to result in opportunities for investment in active travel and public transport to encourage alternative forms of travel into the city centre. For more information on LEZs see chapter 11.
  • Promoting and increasing investment in bus and train travel as alternatives to car travel. The adoption of fleet schemes can promote lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions leading to improved public health. Empowering and offering opportunities for the public to use public transport can provide decarbonisation in our transport sector, improvements in air quality and a reduction in noise pollution.
  • Investing in and supporting the uptake of electric vehicles. This can be done by investing in infrastructure like charging stations which can drive an uptake of electric vehicles. However, electric vehicles produce non-exhaust emissions which can negatively impact air quality. Thus, other policies are needed simultaneously to make meaningful change in air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Encouraging the uptake of low and zero carbon emissions heating options such as heat pumps as a replacement for carbon emitting boilers. Replacing fossil fuel heating with decarbonised electricity will substantially reduce emissions of pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen and sulphur oxides. The Scottish Government is taking a neutral approach towards heating and does not prioritise any single technology. However, there is a risk of cumulative impacts on air quality by moving towards the increased use of biofuels. For more information on biomass and air quality see chapter 13.

Integrating climate change policy with air quality policy presents local authorities with the opportunity to create co-benefits for human health, wellbeing, and the environment. At the same time, however, policy integration poses challenges as some measures to address climate change might adversely impact air quality and care must be taken to minimise trade-offs and avoid unintended consequences. Please refer to chapter 12 for the Scottish Government’s position on biomass heating.

6.4 Setting up an action plan steering group

Local authorities may wish to set up a steering group to take forward the development of an action plan. The members of the steering group should include representatives from all the relevant local authority departments and may include officers from different local authorities, or other organisations such as Transport Scotland, Public Health Scotland, NHS Health Boards and SEPA. The steering group should also decide on how to communicate and engage support from local businesses, community groups, the general public and other interested parties to take the process forward.

A number of commercially available models exist to help local authorities develop integrated action plans. Details of these are held by the LAQM Helpdesk (contact details in Table 2.2), which can advise on their applicability and relevance to authorities’ individual circumstances.

6.5 Actions outside a local authority’s control

Some of the actions needed to improve air quality may be outside the local authority’s direct control. This is the case where, for example, there may be an air quality problem arising from the operation of an airport, a port, an industrial process regulated by SEPA is contributing to air quality objective exceedances, or where high levels of pollutants exist as a result of motorways or trunk roads, regulated by Transport Scotland. SEPA and Transport Scotland are committed to the LAQM process, and both are required to help local authorities develop their action plans and suitable measures in pursuit of the air quality objectives. This commitment should also apply where other operators/businesses or local authorities may hold responsibility for part, or all, of an air quality problem.

Where the local authority has conducted a source apportionment exercise to identify sources of pollution and identified the source as being outside of its control, the local authority will contact the outside body/bodies who may be responsible for controlling the emission source. The local authority and the outside body/bodies should establish agreement on the relevant source of pollution (and level of contribution) and that any measures (and potential scope of measures) are within the influence or control of the outside body/bodies. Where such a situation occurs there is an expectation that the local authority will lead on joint working which will take place with Transport Scotland, SEPA, businesses or neighbouring local authorities to determine suitable actions to address the air quality problem. This form of working may be part of the action plan steering group or may be carried out separately and feed into the action plan development process.

Some of the types of measures which can be used by outside bodies to assist local authorities include:

  • Conducting additional monitoring and data collection to develop further knowledge of the origin, contributions of emission sources and likely measures.
  • Providing easy and accessible data and information relating to emission sources.
  • Setting up a working group with relevant partner organisations and operators, local community groups (this can be similar or complimentary to the action plan steering group).
  • Reviewing permit or operational conditions and operator performance.
  • Identifying transport problems on trunk roads leading to poor air quality and developing measures to resolve them.
  • Developing alert systems for investigation of air pollution episodes.

Outside bodies assisting the local authority must commit to collaborating and providing action plan measures (and where necessary resources) and must supply a date by which the measures will be fully implemented. They must also provide a commitment to ensure appropriate measures are determined in sufficient time to allow the lead local authority to meet the timescales for publishing an action plan.

Local authorities should also make clear any limitations in their action plans and show the extent to which they rely on actions by outside bodies and the Scottish and UK Governments, to work towards meeting the objectives. The action plan should clearly show how other outside bodies have been involved in its development and where measures contained within the action plan are the responsibility (whether partly or solely) of others to meet.

6.6 Keeping the action plan under review

Local authorities should keep their action plans up to date. Section 84(4) of the 1995 Act states that a local authority may from time-to-time revise an action plan. The Scottish Government now requests that all action plans are reviewed and republished on a five-yearly cycle from date of initial publication or from the date specified above (for current action plans). Where the circumstances change significantly within the AQMA this should trigger an automatic review of the action plan for appropriateness (to ensure measures will achieve compliance within a short a time as possible). Whenever an action plan is revised, local authorities must consult the Scottish Ministers and other statutory consultees (as outlined in schedule 11 of the 1995 Act).

All existing action plans (whether published or in draft) are expected to be reviewed and revised in light of this guidance and the Scottish Government expects plans to be completed, published and implemented within the shortest possible time and no later than end March 2024

The Scottish Government expects local authorities to review and republish their air quality actions on a five-yearly cycle from date of initial publication or from the date specified above in paragraph 6.23. A local authority should allow 12 months for the full action plan review process to take place and to ensure the revised action plan is republished within the five-yearly cycle.

Where a local authority considers there is a need for new, further or different measures to be taken in order to achieve air quality objectives within the shortest possible time; or if significant changes to sources or circumstances occur within the AQMA, or the local area, this should trigger an automatic review and revision of the action plan. In this situation, the local authority should complete, publish and implement the revised action plan within the shortest possible time and no later than 12 months from the date of the review process starting. Local authorities should notify the Scottish Government and SEPA where an early review of an action plan is required outlining the circumstances, reasons and timescales for the review.

In order to ensure that local authorities implement the measures within an action plan by the timescales stated within that plan, the Scottish Government expects authorities to submit updates on progress through the APR process. The APR update should list the measures within the action plan and include the timescales by when they are/were due to be implemented and give an update on progress in terms of implementation (including milestones or where measures have been completed). Where an action plan measure is not achieving the desired reduction in emissions, and/or has been delayed, this must be investigated by the authority and a remedial action provided to address the problem. This will then become part of the suite of action plan measures and must be included when conducting future reviews of action plans. The criteria for submission of APRs is contained in section 3 of this guidance document and the APR template has been updated to capture this requirement.

6.7 Action plans following revocation of an AQMA

Following revocation of an AQMA the local authority should consider replacing the air quality action plan (which has served its purpose) with a local air quality strategy (see Section 7 for details on air quality strategies) to ensure air quality retains a high public profile and measures remain in place to continue to improve air quality in the area and prevent any future deterioration towards exceedances of the air quality objectives. This may be part of a wider air quality strategy which covers parts of, or the whole, local authority area. Where an air quality strategy is not deemed appropriate an air quality action plan should remain in place.

Where an air quality strategy is developed, the ongoing measures contained in the final air quality action plan should form the basis of the relevant content of the strategy, but consideration should also be given to wider air quality in the local authority area and the strategic approaches required to ensure the authority maintains compliance with the air quality objectives and continues to reduce emissions.


Email: andrew.taylor2@gov.scot

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