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.

4: Air Quality Management Areas

4.1 Local authorities have a duty under Section 83(1) of the 1995 Act to designate AQMAs where the air quality objectives are unlikely to be met by or met beyond the required date. AQMAs must be designated officially by means of an order.

Declaring an AQMA

4.2 When considering the decision to declare an area as AQMA the local authority should contact Scottish Government and SEPA to discuss any proposals. In general terms the local authority should provide as a minimum, details of:

  • The description of the proposed AQMA and local pollution sources.
  • Monitoring carried out in relation to the AQMA.
  • Monitoring data for the area of the proposed AQMA demonstrating current, or likely, exceedences with the relevant air quality objectives.
  • A recommendation for the proposed AQMA and a justification for authority's decision.

4.3 Much of the information to support declaration of an AQMA will be collected as part of the review and assessment process, however where more detailed assessments (or additional studies) have been conducted these may also be included as evidence to support the proposal for declaration of the AQMA.

Setting the boundaries of AQMAs

4.4 Setting the boundary of an AQMA involves an element of judgement. Boundaries can range from isolated buildings, junctions and lengths of road to the entire local authority area. Some local authorities have chosen to designate several AQMAs, each covering an area of concern, whereas others have included all such areas within one overall AQMA. It is thus for local authorities to decide on the boundaries for an AQMA, taking all relevant considerations into account and consulting as appropriate.

4.5 In deciding where to draw the boundaries of an AQMA, local authorities might wish to consider some of the following points:

  • It may be administratively much simpler to designate a wider area, based on existing boundaries and natural features. This avoids the need to draw artificially precise lines on maps and also allows a more strategic approach to be taken.
  • Wherever the boundaries of the AQMA are drawn, the measures contained in the air quality action plan are likely to need to cover a wider area.
  • Designating a number of smaller AQMAs, rather than one single large area, can allow an authority to demonstrate progress by removing individual areas as air quality improves there.
  • Declaring smaller AQMAs may also provide a clear focus on the hot spot locations within a local authority. This may prove particularly important for informing local authority planning processes.
  • A more focused approach to declaring AQMAs may provide a better indication of where resources need to be allocated in terms of policy interventions.

What should an AQMA order look like?

4.6 The exact wording to be included in a AQMA designation order is at the discretion of the individual local authority. As a minimum requirement, local authorities are required to include a map showing the area to be designated (and surrounding area) and to include a description of the area. For example, a larger AQMA may be described according to its boundaries near to major roads/motorways. A smaller AQMA may need a more detailed description listing individual streets or other physical features. In some cases, it may be appropriate to list the individual streets or properties affected, but there is no legal requirement to do this. A template guide for forming the basis for drafting an AQMA designation order is available on request from SEPA.

4.7 It is also recommended that the order should include the date on which the AQMA comes into force and the objective/s for which the AQMA has been designated (e.g. NO2 annual mean). Local authorities should notify the Scottish Government by submitting a copy of the order. Local authorities should ensure that the information is easily accessible for members of the public and other interested parties (both in electronic and hardcopy format). The local authority should also inform the administrators of the Air Quality in Scotland website at: Contact | Scottish Air Quality to ensure the AQMA database is updated. Some local authorities also include AQMAs within local land searches.

4.8 From date of commencement of the AQMA designation order, local authorities will have 12 months to produce and publish the accompanying air quality action plan. Action plans must be reviewed regularly and no later than every five years as outlined in Section 6.

4.9 An AQMA is intended as a short-term measure which should only remain in place for as long as is necessary for the air quality objectives to be met with certainty. Where an AQMA is no longer required, it should be revoked within the shortest possible time (criteria for revocation are described below) and by the date stated in the relevant air quality action plan.

Amendment to and revocation of an AQMA

4.10 Local authorities are able to amend or revoke an existing AQMA order at any time as set out under section 83(2) of the 1995 Act. Where an authority considers it necessary to do this, the Scottish Government expects the authority to consult SEPA and all other statutory consultees, businesses, members of the public and other interested parties in the vicinity of the AQMA. All available supporting information to justify the amendment or revocation should be provided to the Scottish Government before any changes take effect (and this should take the form of a revocation proposal report – as outlined below). A local authority may submit a proposal to amend or revoke an existing AQMA order at any time.

4.11 There are no set criteria on which an amendment or revocation decision will be based, and the Scottish Government considers each request on a case-by-case basis. A minimum requirement however will normally be at least three consecutive years where the objectives of concern are being achieved and where monitoring data demonstrates that further exceedances of the objectives are unlikely to occur. This monitoring data and information will be routinely collected through the review and assessment process and where required, additional monitoring and modelling studies. A specific detailed assessment for the AQMA is not specifically required to be conducted to proceed with AQMA amendment or revocation.

4.12 There is an expectation that once the authority has demonstrated that the AQMA is in compliance with the air quality objectives (with confidence that future exceedances are unlikely) the AQMA order will be amended or revoked at the earliest opportunity (shortest possible time) as set out above and no later than the date set out in the relevant action plan.

4.13 The content of an amendment or revocation proposal report should usually contain as a minimum, details of:

  • The description of the AQMA and local pollution sources.
  • Monitoring equipment and locations in relation to the AQMA.
  • Monitoring data for the AQMA demonstrating compliance with the relevant air quality objectives for at least three consecutive years, with sufficient confidence to ensure further exceedances of air quality objectives are unlikely.
  • A recommendation and justification for the authority's decision.
  • Where a more detailed assessment (or additional studies) has been conducted this may also be included as evidence to support the proposal for amendment or revocation of the AQMA.

4.14 Template documents that can form the basis for conducting an amendment or revocation of an AQMA order are available on request from SEPA. Much of the information required for the amendment or revocation proposal report can be found in existing APRs and the intention is this information should be used (rather than requiring new or additional work to be carried out).

4.15 Where the proposed revocation or amendment is accepted by the Scottish Government, local authorities will be expected to take the necessary action within four months following receipt of comments. Where an AQMA is revoked, the authority should modify an existing local air quality strategy or maintain an air quality action plan for the affected area(s) to ensure air quality issues maintain a high profile locally and to respond to any public expectations (details on air quality strategies can be found in section 7). Such a strategy or plan could incorporate measures designed to tackle climate change or be incorporated into a local climate change strategy. It could also cover the linkages between air quality and wider environmental sustainability issues.

Notification of amendment or revocation of an AQMA

4.16 Once an amendment or revocation of an AQMA has taken place, the local authority should submit the order to the Scottish Government for information. Local authorities should also notify SEPA and other statutory consultees and publicise the amendment or revocation widely through local media so as to ensure that the public and local businesses are fully aware of the situation. These notifications should take place within one month of the amendment or revocation of the AQMA order coming into effect.

4.17 The local authority should also inform the administrators of the Air Quality in Scotland website at: Contact | Scottish Air Quality to ensure the AQMA database is updated accordingly.

Funding for AQMAs post-revocation

4.18 As outlined above, there is an expectation that action plans will continue to be implemented or air quality strategies will be developed for areas previously declared as AQMAs. As such, the funding routes from Scottish Government for air quality action planning will continue after any AQMA revocations take place, to help ensure that air quality improvements are maintained.


Email: Andrew.Taylor2@gov.scot

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