The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, first published in 1997 and most recently revised in July 2007, establishes the framework for air quality improvements across the UK based on nationally and internationally agreed measures. It sets out the Air Quality Standards and Objectives and also sets an agenda for the longer term. Here, in addition to the strategy, we discover how colleagues across the Scottish Government are working together to develop and deliver real improvements and practical solutions to air quality issues.
Addressing the impact of air pollution on human health is central to the Scottish Government’s work on improving air quality.
In 2007, they established the Scottish air quality website and database which:
- is a comprehensive source of all kinds of air quality information, for both specialists and the general public, including current and historical monitoring data from around 90 sites across Scotland;
- provides alerts when high pollution episodes are forecast.
In 2011, they launched Know and Respond, an innovative service developed in partnership with Health Protection Scotland, which allows people to sign up to receive these alerts on their mobile phone, by either text or voicemail. Although open to anyone, the service is especially targeted at those individuals with health conditions that may be affected by high levels of pollution.
There has been a dramatic reduction in industrial air pollution over recent decades due to increasingly stringent regulation, which has left transport as by far the main source of emissions in most of Scotland’s urban areas. This is acknowledged in Scotland’s National Transport Strategy where one of the three strategic outcomes is a commitment to improve air quality.
The European Commission has recognised that many member states are unlikely to achieve full compliance with the limit values for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), especially close to roadsides in densely populated urban areas. Accordingly, the Ambient Air Quality Directive allows Member States to apply to postpone compliance until 2015 so long as they submit air quality plans setting out how the limits will be met by then.
Plans have been developed for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Central Scotland and North East Scotland. These plans outline how Scotland expects to comply with the limit values by 2015, with the exception of the M8 ‘missing link’ outside Glasgow – which will also comply once this stretch of road has been upgraded to motorway status, expected to be in 2017.
Air pollution often originates from the same activities that contribute to climate change (notably transport and electricity generation) so it makes sense to consider how the linkages between air quality and climate change policy areas can be managed to best effect. In 2010, the four UK administrations published Air Pollution: Action in a Changing Climate which considers these issues in detail.
As with climate change, renewable energy is a policy area that can impact both positively and negatively on air quality, and we all need to work closely together to ensure that the outcomes are positive all round.
Both central and local government have key roles to play in improving air quality in Scotland. A system of local air quality management (LAQM) has been in place in the UK since 1997, with the overall aim of ensuring that the air quality objectives will be achieved in all areas. Local authorities are required to review their current air quality annually and assess whether any locations are likely to exceed these objectives. Wherever exceedences are identified they must declare an air quality management area and produce action plans outlining how they intend to tackle the issues identified.
The Scottish Government works closely with all local authorities that have air quality action plans to implement. They provide financial support through grant schemes which are targeted at those authorities with specific air quality issues. This support assists with monitoring work and implementation of action plan measures. Local authorities are encouraged to work together to develop regional solutions to problems, and to consult with other local stakeholders to ensure that expertise is shared as widely as possible. They also are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the LAQM system.