The Air Quality Legislation


Runner2 DGPeople matter – the right to a safe environment  – Photo Dave Green

The UK Legislation

The Air Quality in our boroughs is principally within the framework of the 1995 Environment Act.

This act established and set up:

  1. The Environment Agency
  2. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
  3. The National Park Authorities

It also required the Secretary of State to prepare a national waste strategy and a strategy for UK Air Quality. Essentially this is the legislation local authority’s work to in monitoring local air quality. Other than close to airports, where noise is an issue, the vast majority of legislation is concerned with traffic borne air pollutants.

Local authorities are required to monitor and assess air pollution within their borough which they do by diffusion tubes and automated monitoring stations. There are defined standards by which air quality is deemed a risk to the public. In these locations where excess pollutants are above a threshold the authorities must declare the area an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).

Once an area has been declared an AQMA the local authority must develop an air quality action plan for the area to mitigate the risk and improve the air quality until it returns to safe levels below the thresholds.

DEFRA  (Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs) governs the process and liaises with individual authorities and reviews air quality action plans.

Other UK legislations are

The Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 sets national objectives for local authorities in England.

 The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002 transposes into UK legislation the requirements of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC) from the European Union.

The Air Quality Standards (Regulations) Act 2010 – this strengthened the 1996 Act introducing further controls driven from the European Union. These transposed into English law the requirements of Directives 2008/50/EC and 2004/107/EC on ambient air quality.

 The European Union Legislation

 The European Union Law (historically called “European Community Law”) is a body of treaties and legislation, such as Regulations and Directives, which have direct or indirect effect on the laws of European Union member states.

The law is passed to member states by directives which develop the law in Britain.

The European Union is driving improved standards on Air Quality as the science emerges that it presents a greater risk than previously anticipated. There has been some resistance by the UK government to strengthening the controls and thresholds. The government has asked for, and been given, more time but the European Union has insisted that these much tighter regulation be in place in all major UK cities by 2020 and London by 2025. The British government has committed to these targets. Even in the event Britain were to leave the EU it is unlikely we would waver from international treaties particularly in the light of the science and medical research.

The Health & Social Care Act 2012

This was a wide ranging review of the structure of the overall health service and in the context of air quality an important part of this act was that promotion of health and wellbeing transferred from the NHS to local authorities. So you may have suddenly seen your local council now starting to promote and advertise lifestyle issues such as obesity and smoking.

Your local council therefore has a statutory duty of care to mitigate risk of adverse air quality both from within this act. This is in addition to the 1995 Environment Act and EU legislation.

In Summary

There is a wealth of protective legislation for the health of you and your family in regard to the dangers of air pollution and in particular traffic borne pollution. The science is overwhelming. Traffic borne air pollution is a major health risk and is known to shorten lifespan.   However as development increases traffic increases and the legalisation becomes tighter.  As we approach 2020 this is likely to become an increasingly important issue for local communities.