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.

12: Air quality and planning


12.1 The land use planning system is integral to improving air quality. Local authorities need to understand the links between air quality and land use planning policies if the planning system is to contribute to improving air quality. This guidance should be read in conjunction with Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) and Planning Advice Note (PAN) 51: Planning, Environmental Protection and Regulation. PAN 51 advises on the policies and practices that should be adopted by planning authorities and others involved in planning new developments and redevelopments.

12.2 The Scottish Government expects local authorities to ensure that this guidance, the placemaking sections and actions in CAFS and the advice in SPP and PAN 51 and the letter sent by the Chief Planner to all authorities in 2004 are taken into account by relevant departments. The guidance is designed to help planning departments within local authorities to carry out their functions and may be material in preparing development plans and in determining planning applications. It will also help businesses, SEPA and the public, and anyone else involved in the planning process.

Modernising the planning system

12.3 Scotland's planning system has undergone its most significant modernisation in over 60 years. The National Planning Framework (NPF)[19] provides the context for development planning in Scotland and provides a framework for the spatial development of Scotland as a whole. It sets out the Government's development priorities over the next 20-30 years.

The land use planning context

12.4 Local authorities should integrate air quality considerations within the planning process at the earliest possible stage. To facilitate this they should consider developing supplementary planning guidance or protocols. Although the land use planning system does not offer any quick-fix solutions to areas of poor air quality, it can do much to improve local air quality in the longer term, as well as ensuring in the short term that existing air quality does not deteriorate.

12.5 In addition to PAN 51, planning policies relevant to local authorities' air quality responsibilities are outlined in Scottish Planning Policy (SPP)[20]. The SPP sets out the Government's policies on land use planning and explains how the planning system can help meet the Scottish Ministers' priorities for operation of the planning system, and land use and development.

12.6 Planning authorities should also be aware of the guidance produced by Environmental Protection UK, Development Control: Planning for Air Quality. The guidance was updated in 2015[21].

Planning and pollution control

12.7 PAN 51 explains the relationship between the land use planning and pollution control systems. The systems are separate but complementary. Close co-ordination between planning authorities and pollution control regulators helps to minimise unnecessary duplication of effort.

12.8 If a proposed emission source does not require a pollution control permit (e.g. if the source is not regulated under Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), or if only some of its emissions are regulated under the Clean Air Act 1993) then planning authorities might, in some circumstances, consider adding conditions to the planning permission to tackle the source's possible effect on local air quality. These conditions might require a scheme of monitoring and mitigation, covering planning concerns to be approved by planning authorities before any development goes ahead. In these cases, planning authorities should work closely with SEPA and/or the environmental health department, as appropriate. Where conditions are not enough to overcome the planning objection to a development proposal, it may be appropriate for the parties to enter into a planning agreement. Section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 enables any person interested in land in the area of a planning authority to enter into a planning agreement with the authority. Planning authorities should, however, avoid unnecessary conditions or agreements that duplicate the effects of other controls. Also, conditions that conflict with other controls would be ultra vires (beyond the authority's powers) because they are unreasonable.

Development Plans

12.9 Some issues that should be considered in the preparation of development plans, and may also be material in the consideration of individual planning applications, are as follows:

  • Ensuring that the land use planning system makes an appropriate contribution to the achievement of air quality objectives;
  • the need to identify land, or establish criteria, for the location of potentially polluting developments and the availability of alternative sites;
  • inclusion of policies on the appropriate location for new development, including reducing the need to travel and promoting public transport;
  • the potential effects of particular types of developments on existing and likely future air quality, particularly in and around AQMAs; and
  • the requirements of air quality action plans.

Environmental impact assessment and the planning process

12.10 Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an important procedure for ensuring that potentially significant environmental effects (direct and indirect) of a proposed development are fully understood and taken into account before the development is approved or refused. The types of development for which an EIA may be required are given in the Environmental Impact Assessment (Scotland) Regulations 1999.

12.11 The developer of a project which is subject to EIA is required to prepare an environmental statement describing the likely effects of the project. The planning authority must take this into account when considering the planning application. The information to be included in the environmental statement is described in Schedule 4 to the Regulations. It must include a description of the development, potentially significant environmental effects (including air quality before and after the proposed development), mitigating measures envisaged, a description of any alternatives considered by the applicant and the reasons for the final choice, and a non-technical summary.

Air quality as a material consideration

12.12 Air quality is capable of being a material planning consideration, in so far as it affects land use. Whether it actually is will depend upon the facts of the case. Wherever a proposed development is likely to have significant air quality impacts, close co-operation will be essential between planning authorities and those with responsibility for air quality and pollution control. The impact on ambient air quality is likely to be particularly important where:

  • the proposed development is inside or adjacent to an AQMA;
  • the development could result in designation of a new AQMA; and
  • the granting of planning permission would conflict with, or render unworkable, elements of a local authority's air quality action plan.

12.13 This does not mean that all planning applications for developments inside or adjacent to AQMAs should automatically be refused if the development is likely to affect local air quality. Such an approach could sterilise development, particularly where authorities have designated large areas as AQMAs. All such applications will continue to be considered according to their individual merits on the basis of all available information. It may mean, however, that consideration of planning conditions could be required in some circumstances.

12.14 In considering whether a site inside an AQMA is an appropriate location for new housing, planning authorities should consider where within the AQMA likely exeedences have been identified, how great these exceedences are and when it is forecast that the objectives will be met. It should also consider the potential effect on air quality of the new housing development.


12.15 This guidance is intended to serve only as a brief summary of some of the main ways in which land use planning can help deliver air quality objectives. It builds on the detailed advice contained in the SPP and PAN 51, but is not intended to serve as a substitute for them.


Email: Andrew.Taylor2@gov.scot

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