A series of actions have been announced to improve air quality introduced under the Environment Act 2021. This includes National Highways to work with local authorities to improve air quality, Local Air Quality Guidance strengthened under the Environment Act and technical guidance also updated to support local air quality action.
The Environment Act established a legally binding duty on government to bring forward at least two new air quality targets in secondary legislation by 31 October 2022.
New legal requirement
Using powers in the Environment Act, National Highways is to become the first designated “Relevant Public Authority” placing a legal requirement on it to work together with local councils when necessary to take effective action to deliver air quality standards and objectives. While National Highways already work with local authorities to improve air quality, this statutory requirement – consulted on earlier this year – will see a more consistent approach to meeting local air quality objectives on road networks.
In addition to this, Defra has updated Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) Policy Guidance to reflect legislative changes introduced through the Environment Act 2021 and clarify roles and responsibilities within local government.
Following consultation feedback, the guidance will be amended to include:
- A new requirement for local Air Quality Action Plans to include a timeline of clear actions that ensure Air Quality Objectives (pollution concentration limits) are met and air quality standards improve in local areas.
- The requirement for an Air Quality Management Area to be declared within 12 months of identifying an exceedance of the air quality objectives to ensure that local councils develop Air Quality Actions Plans more quickly.
- The requirement for local authorities to produce an Air Quality Action Plan within 18 months of declaring an Air Quality Management Area.
- A new reminder and warning alert system to increase local council compliance with reporting on actions they are taking to improve air quality.
The Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) Technical Guidance, which is designed to support local authorities in carrying out their duties under the Environment Act, has also been updated to reflect the legislative changes introduced through the Environment Act 2021.
Environment Minister, Steve Double said: “These changes – delivered by our Environment Act – provide a strengthened framework for local councils to meet their air quality objectives and will ensure that communities are protected sooner with real improvements to the air we breathe.”
Local action to cut air pollution
Last month, the Government opened £7 million of Air Quality Grants for local authorities opens to benefit communities and reduce the impact of polluted air on people’s health.
The Government believes the grant will encourage and support projects that deal with improving air quality as well as improving knowledge about the health risks.
Local authorities across the country can bid for a portion of the fund for a wide range of projects to improve air quality and create cleaner and healthier environments.
Since it was established, the Air Quality Grant scheme has awarded more than £81 million to a variety of innovative projects. These have included a digital education package to teach children and parents about the health impacts of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. In addition to the development of a community website to share air quality information and raise awareness with local residents and visitors.
These projects and many others funded by the grant scheme have contributed to the significant improvement in air quality seen in the UK in recent decades. Since 2010, levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – particles or liquid droplets in the air which present the greatest risk to public health – have reduced by 11% while emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 32% and are at their lowest level since records began.
As highlighted at a recent Levelling Up the Conversation broadcast in Taunton for Chamber, local authorities have raised their concerns about the lack of guidance surrounding the effective implementation of the Environment Act.
For local authorities, this week’s announcement helps to clarify one element of the Act, however there is a long way to go to simplify the guidance for local authorities.
Levelling up is much more than a buzz word, it is about integrating services in localities to improve outcomes. There is a clear opportunity for the Government to demonstrate how better co-ordination of services can help to tackle air pollution – one of the key determinants for whether a person with asthma or other breathing conditions will live a long and healthy life.
As campaigners like Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah have highlighted for years, the state must co-ordinate its action through delivery bodies such as National Highways.
To find out more
Full guidance on Local Air Quality Management is available.
To find out more about Curia’s Levelling Up Commission that looks at the co-ordination of public services, click here.