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Air quality

Air quality

We have a direct remit to regulate, control, monitor and act as a consultee on many activities that may influence air quality in Scotland. Under the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012 we regulate and monitor certain industrial activities in Scotland that can generate airborne pollution, and, under the Environment (Scotland) Act 1995, we work with, and direct where necessary, local authorities to monitor, manage and improve Scottish air quality.

We also seek to advise and engage government, industry and the public on pollution control and other environmental issues, and we work towards Scottish, UK and EU objectives and targets set to address global climate change and the transboundary movements of pollutants.

Aside from these regulatory and policy roles, we operate the Airborne Hazards Emergency Response Service (AHERS) service on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Details of our role in relation to these different areas can be found below:

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We regulate the operators of certain industrial activitiesvia the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012. Through permits granted under this regulatory regime, operators must prevent or, where that is not practicable, reduce emissions to air, water and land, with the aim of providing a high level of protection to the environment taken as a whole.


We monitor the release of specified pollutants to air, land and water, and waste transfers from certain, larger-scale regulated sites. This is reported in the Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory. This data is used to fulfil the reporting requirements of the United Kingdom PRTR and the 2003 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (Kiev Protocol). The UKPRTR is the publicly available register that implements the Kiev Protocol and UK PRTR legislation.

Data on local air quality monitoring (supplied by local authorities) is contained in the Scottish Government’s Air quality in Scotland website.

On behalf of the Scottish Government, we lead Scotland’s emergency air pollution response, the Airborne Hazards Emergency Response Service (AHERS) service. This provides air quality monitoring and information to support the emergency services and other agencies in the event of a serious incident that has the potential to impact air quality – such as a chemical fire, an explosion at an industrial site or a release of gases and natural events such as volcanic eruptions.

Managing and improving air quality

Our overarching aim is to ensure that Scotland’s air quality is the best in Europe.

The land use planning system is integral to improving air quality, with the minimisation of environmental hazards, promotion of better health and wellbeing and the reduction of emissions all being cited as beneficial outcomes of improving air quality in the National Planning Framework 4: Position Statement.

A place-based approach can help to tackle air pollution, avoid creating new air quality problems and reduce human exposure to air pollution, as well as providing the other benefits of increased well-being and environmental improvement to the wider community, helping to reduce inequalities.  This role is recognised in Scottish Government Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 (CAFS2) Strategy – Towards a Better Place for Everyone (2021).

The planning process is also placed at the centre of local air quality management and statutory guidance is provided to local authorities and regulators on how this should be considered (PG S 16 and TG 18).

Planning Advice Notes (PANs) provide advice on good practice and other relevant information. PAN 51 on Planning, Environmental Protection and Regulation (revised in 2006) provides advice on air quality and planning and sets out linkages with the Scottish Government’s Local Air Quality Management Policy Guidance and SEPA’s role in air quality.  PAN51  identifies that air quality is likely to be a material consideration in assessing developments within AQMAs or areas close to declaring them and further states there may also be a need to consider the cumulative effects of development on air quality leading to a gradual deterioration in air quality.

In addition, the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) consultation document confirms that NPF4 will help to deliver the Scottish Government’s CAFS2 strategy through new policies to improve and protect air quality alongside reducing climate change emissions.

SEPA has an established and critical role in the promotion of better air quality in Scotland and we provide comments on relevant planning applications in line with PAN 51 to fulfil our duties under the LAQM system and as key delivery agency for the CAFS2 strategy.

Although local authorities are primarily responsible for managing and improving local air quality, under Section 85 of the Environment Act (1995)with the approval of Scottish Ministers, we have reserve powers to take action where local authorities have made insufficient progress.

In addition, we work closely with a range of partners to address air quality issues in Scotland, in groups such as:

Policy Development and Implementation

We seek to engage, advise and influence government, industry, businesses and the public on a range of air quality issues. This includes current and potential issues relating to industryenergy production, transport and climate change. For example, we developed an air quality teaching packagefor schools, with North Lanarkshire Council, and provided support to the Scottish Government in the development of the new Cleaner Air for Scotland (CAFS) Strategy.

SEPA works closely with Scottish Government in the development of future air quality policy, guidance and legislation, provision of scientific evidence and technical advice, provision of communications and public engagement.

SEPA is a key delivery partner for Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 (CAFS 2), has responsibility for leading or supporting the delivery of actions in nine of the ten priority sectors and is a member of the Ministerial , Delivery and Working Groups. 

In particular SEPA is delivering the following tasks.

  • Utilising its sector plan approach to encourage businesses to go beyond compliance to achieve further reduction in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Assessing the current regulatory regimes (such as PPC) for gaps, activities which may need to be regulated and appropriateness of qualifying thresholds.
  • Working with the agricultural industry to develop a voluntary code of good agricultural practice for improving air quality in Scotland, sharing best practice and raising awareness of greenhouse gases and ammonia, and actions that farmers and crofters can take to minimise their environmental impact while improving efficiency.
  • Continuing work to deliver Scotland’s LEZs.
  • Continuing to improve air pollution data and evidence through development of new data collection and storage methods, modelling and tools and reporting capabilities.
  • Developing guidance on co-related aspects to air pollution such as noise and non-industrial emissions.
  • With Scottish Government conducting a review of the current local air quality management system (LAQM) system to update guidance and improve the methods for assessment and reporting.
  • Playing a key role in the governance of the CAFS 2 process.