Local air quality management: policy guidance

Updated guidance for local authorities to take account of Environmental Standards Scotland's recommendations to strengthen the local air quality management regime.

1: Introduction

This guidance supersedes the previous (April 2018) version.

Purpose of this guidance

1.1 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 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; 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 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.

1.3 The 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.

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, 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. 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.

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. Where a local authority is manifestly failing to carry out its duties, without reasonable excuse, the Scottish Government expects SEPA to approach the Scottish Minsters to put its reserve powers into effect and issue directions to local authorities.

1.6 This policy guidance, the accompanying technical guidance (TG (22)) 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 replaces the previous LAQM policy guidance published in March 2016 (and revised April 2018).

Review of Local Air Quality Management

1.7 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 to take account of developments since the last update in 2016.

1.8 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 Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, which forms part of retained law following the UK's exit from the European Union.

1.9 Three of the six recommendations made by ESS following their investigation are to strengthen the effectiveness of the LAQM regime in place to improve air quality in Scotland. The revisions made to this LAQM policy guidance incorporate the ESS recommendations to strengthen the LAQM regime.

1.10 A short life working group with members including local authorities and SEPA was established to support Scottish Government in reviewing the LAQM policy guidance.


1.11 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.

1.12 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.


Email: Andrew.Taylor2@gov.scot

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