Local air quality management: policy guidance

Updated guidance for local authorities to take account of changes to industrial emissions legislation and requirements.

This guidance supersedes the previous (March 2016) version.

1: Introduction

Purpose of this guidance

1.1 This guidance is intended to help local authorities with their local air quality management 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 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; and
  • the relationships between air quality and noise policy.

1.2 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 local air quality management duties, as required under section 88(2) of the Act. The guidance should be taken into account by all local authority departments involved in local air quality management ( 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 ( CAFS) [2] , which was published in November 2015, and the two documents should therefore be read in conjunction.

1.3 The guidance on air quality and land use planning, in particular, should be read together with Scottish Planning Policy ( SPP) [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.

1.4 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.

1.5 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 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. Subject to this approval SEPA may issue directions to local authorities requiring them to take any or all of the following steps:-

  • 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; and
  • Implement any actions in an action plan.

The Scottish Government expects reserve powers to be put into effect only where local authorities are manifestly failing to carry out their LAQM duties. Although they have not been used to date, the possible implementation of such powers will not be ruled out in the future should circumstances suggest that they would be both appropriate and effective.

1.6 This policy guidance, the accompanying technical guidance ( TG (16)) and CAFS are the primary guidance documents to which local authorities should have regard when carrying out their air quality review and assessment work. The guidance replaces the LAQM policy guidance published in February 2009.

Review of Local Air Quality Management

1.7 In 2013 the Scottish Government undertook a consultation [6] on proposals to review the LAQM system, the first time such a comprehensive review has been undertaken since LAQM was introduced. The consultation was based on an earlier review [7] carried out in 2010 on behalf of all four UK administrations, which concluded that the ability of LAQM to diagnose problems was effective, but the capacity to deliver improvements was less so. The review resulted in a number of proposals and recommendations [8] for overhauling LAQM to make it more fit for purpose. These recommendations are summarised below and covered in more detail at the relevant points in this guidance.

  • Revised policy guidance, incorporating all the key comments and suggestions made by consultees
  • LAQM and EU regulations to be kept separate
  • All objectives currently in regulations will be retained
  • A simplified annual report for all authorities - with options for more detailed work where necessary
  • No reduction in current monitoring levels
  • Consideration of how local authority data and action plan measures can be used more effectively in EU reporting
  • Retention of AQMAs
  • More focus on action planning and delivery
  • Drawing together existing of guidance into a centralised resource and identify key gaps
  • Development of a clear and focused message on the health impacts of air pollution, as the centrepiece of a national co-ordinated campaign involving the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, Health Protection Scotland, SEPA and others


1.8 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.

1.9 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.

Air quality and health

1.10 Across the UK, the impact of poor air quality on health has been estimated to cost around £15 billion per year. The total annual cost of air pollution to the UK's economy may be as much as £54 billion. In Scotland in 2010 fine particulate matter was associated with around 2,000 premature deaths and around 22,500 lost life-years across the population [9] . Detailed information on the relationships between air quality and health can be found in CAFS and in a briefing paper [10] published in 2014 by Health Protection Scotland.


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