Local air quality management: policy guidance

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

6: Air quality action plans

6.1 Air quality action plans must focus on effective, feasible, proportionate and quantifiable measures as the top priority. Lengthy descriptions of the LAQM system are not necessary and action plans should be as concise as possible. What matters is that appropriate measures are taken to improve air quality, and that progress on these measures can be reported on quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Besides the fundamental role of action plans in improving local air quality, the Scottish Government and the other UK administrations must demonstrate to the European Commission the measures that are being taken to meet EU Limit Values. Local authority action has an important role to play here.

What to include in an action plan

6.2 There is no need to provide detailed background 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 review and assessment reports, which can be referenced in the plan. The action plan itself should have a more practical focus - detailing measures to improve air quality and quantifying their impact over time. An air quality action plan must include the following:

  • demonstration that the local air quality issues are clearly understood;
  • an explanation of how the action plan will help to deliver the aims and objectives of CAFS:
  • quantification of the source contributions to the predicted exceedences of the objectives; this will allow the action plan measures to be effectively targeted;
  • evidence that all available options have been considered on the grounds of 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 its plan;
  • quantification of the expected impacts of the proposed measures and, where possible, an indication as to whether the measures will be sufficient to meet the objectives; and
  • how the local authority intends to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan.

The 1995 Act does not prescribe any timescale for preparing an action plan. However, the Scottish Government expects plans to be completed within 12 months of AQMA designation.

Partnership working

6.3 Local authorities should take a joined up approach towards the action planning process, which should involve environmental health, planning, transport and corporate services departments, besides any other parts of the authority that may have a role to play. 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 plans such as Local Transport Strategies and Environmental Noise Action Plans.

Setting up a steering group

6.4 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 departments and may include officers from different local authorities, or other organisations such as Transport Scotland, Health Protection Scotland and SEPA. The steering group should also decide on how to engage support from local businesses, community groups, the public and other interested parties to take the process forward.

6.5 All local authority departments with an interest in air quality or the measures proposed for the plan should be identified and constructively engaged in the process, particularly:

  • transport planners;
  • land use planners and town centre managers;
  • environmental protection and energy management officers;
  • waste managers;
  • economic development, regeneration and tourism departments; and
  • corporate policy and resources.

6.6 A number of commercially available models exist to help local authorities to develop integrated action plans. Details of these are held by the helpdesk (contact details in paragraph 2.7), which can advise on their applicability and relevance to authorities' individual circumstances.

Actions outside a local authority's control

6.7 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, an industrial process regulated by SEPA is contributing to air quality exceedences, or where high levels of pollutants exist as a result of motorways or trunk roads, regulated by Transport Scotland. Both SEPA and Transport Scotland are committed to the LAQM process and both are required to help local authorities develop their action plans.

6.8 Some local authorities may have air quality problems around airports located within or close to their areas. As well as tackling pollution from the traffic flowing to and from an airport, in some cases there may be a need to address pollution from the airport itself. Local authorities in this situation will have to liaise closely with the airport operators in considering solutions and measures in pursuit of the air quality objectives.

6.9 Local authorities should make clear any limitations in their action plans and show the extent to which they rely on actions by others, such as SEPA, Transport Scotland and the Scottish and UK Governments, to work towards meeting the objectives. The plan should show how other bodies have been involved in its development.

Keeping the action plan under review

6.10 Local authorities have a duty to keep their action plans up to date. Section 84(4) of the 1995 Act states that an authority may from time to time revise an action plan. Whenever an action plan is revised, local authorities must consult the Scottish Ministers and other statutory consultees (see Schedule 11(1) (c) of the 1995 Act).

6.11 In order to ensure that local authorities implement the measures within an action plan by the timescales indicated within that plan, the Scottish Government expects authorities to submit annual progress reports once the final action plan has been implemented. These progress reports 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.

6.12 The progress report should be submitted by the end of June each year, ideally combined with the annual review and assessment progress report.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

6.13 When developing an action plan, local authorities have to consider whether it falls within the scope of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 and therefore whether a Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) is required. An important means to gauge if an SEA of an action plan will be required, is to consider the likely environmental effects of implementing the action plan and whether they are likely to be significant. Further guidance is available on the Scottish Government's website [14]

6.14 As a simple guide, local authorities could take the following into consideration:

Will the plan include conditions which will influence a development plan or other consent framework in ways which are likely to have significant environmental effects (for example, will the action plan require or preclude certain projects at certain locations)? If so, an SEA may be required; or

Does the plan only set out specific air quality measures such as traffic management schemes, parking controls and so, and there is no intention of including conditions to influence planning or development consents? If so, it is unlikely to require an SEA.

6.15 It is important to remember that in each scenario, if the local authority judges that the environmental effects of implementing the action plan are likely to be greater than minimum, a screening request has to be submitted to the Consultation Authorities (Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA and Historic Scotland) identified in the 2005 Act. This can be done via the SEA Gateway. It is also important to note that the SEA process must be carried out during an action plan's preparation, beginning at an early stage prior to any public consultation, and the findings taken into account when the plan is being finalised.


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