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This briefing paper summarises the responsibilities that local authorities have for local air quality. 

Responsibility for meeting air quality targets is devolved to the national administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As such this briefing focuses predominantly on the situation in England. The main legislative provisions, policy and guidance in the devolved nations are also provided. 

Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime

The Environment Act 1995 (as amended) requires the UK Government and the devolved administrations for Scotland and Wales to produce a national air quality strategy containing standards, objectives and measures for improving ambient air quality and to keep these policies under review. The Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 makes corresponding requirements for Northern Ireland. The latest version of the strategy is the 2007 Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

In addition to this, the EU “Air Quality Directive” (EU Directive 2008/50/EC) on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe sets legally binding standards for ambient air quality (the condition of the air in the outdoor environment). The Directive is implemented in the UK through regulations for each country. 

The local air quality management (LAQM) regime requires every district and unitary authority to regularly review and assess air quality in their area. These reviews identify whether national objectives have been, or will be, achieved at relevant locations, by an applicable date. 

Actions to improve air quality

Local authorities use various means to achieve air quality standards, such as traffic and parking management, road design and planning, vehicle regulation, introducing Clean Air Zones, establishing Smoke Control Areas, enforcing statutory nuisance powers and regulating planning.

Proposals to improve air quality

The Government has published and consulted on various proposals aimed at improving local air quality management. Some of these were included in the Environment Bill 2019 which fell at Dissolution. A new Environment Bill (Bill 9, 2019-20) was introduced on 30 January 2020 containing measures to clarify duties and enable greater cooperation under the Local Air Quality Management Framework, make smoke emissions in Smoke Control Areas  in England subject to civil penalty notices (fines) rather than prosecution as criminal offences, and redefine smoke from private dwellings in smoke control areas in England  as a statutory nuisance.

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