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Local Air Quality Management

Introduction

The UK Government's strategic policies for tackling air quality were laid out in the policy document Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge, published by the then Department of the Environment (DoE) in January 1995. The Environment Act 1995 Part IV, Air Quality, provided the legal framework for development of the Government's National Air Quality Strategy. As part of the Act the Secretary of State published a National Air Quality Strategy in 1997 (updated in 2000). Part IV of the Environment Act 1995 requires local authorities (any unitary or district authority) to review air quality and to assess whether the air quality standards and objectives are being achieved. A local authority, for any area where the air quality standards are not being met, will then be obliged to issue an order designating an air quality management area.

The major components of air quality management are generally considered to be: emissions inventorying, ambient air quality monitoring, standards and guidelines, compliance assessment, simulation modelling, public information, alert procedures, land use planning and transport integration, assessment and management procedures. Many of these activities in the UK to date have been directed at the short term improvement in air quality rather than seeking to develop structures capable of ensuring progressive long term improvements in air quality. Central Government has recognised the need to provide an integrated framework for the identification and subsequent management of areas in which air quality may be a problem. Local authorities are to bear the primary responsibility for this, with the co-operation of bodies such as the Environment Agency.

The Aim of an Air Quality Strategy

An air quality strategy will have two component plans: an air quality plan, which will provide a reaction to existing air quality problems, and an air quality strategic plan which will provide longer term solutions and will aim to plan future air quality. The two will have different time scales but will operate in tandem. The goals and success of the local strategy will be judged using the indicators of key pollutant emissions and concentrations and their compliance with air quality standards and guidelines.

Identifying Participating Agencies

Developing an air quality management strategy will require the involvement of a range of agencies within and outside the Local Authority, as well as the Department for Environment, Foor & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of Health. National and regional pollution control authorities and agencies such as the Environment Agency must also be engaged in the process. Meteorological forecasts are an important component of air quality management; hence the Meteorological Office will be an important agency. The role of these agencies will be to assist, through consultation, the aims and objectives of the strategy, and secondly to participate in the structural adjustments needed in form and functioning as the air quality plans are introduced.

Goals and Objectives

The success of any strategy depends on the identification of clear policy goals. In relation to air quality, these goals will mainly develop from the requirement to attain or maintain air quality standards (AQS). The objectives of the strategy must be known to all the relevant local, regional and national agencies. This will help avoid the problems of conflicting policy development.

Emissions

An air quality management strategy will need to consider the range of emission sources at the local, regional and national level, which contribute to the local air quality. A suitably detailed emissions inventory will enable identification of particular problem areas for which specific policies may be developed.

Monitoring

An important aspect of an air quality management approach which uses air quality standards as a measure of acceptable air quality is the availability of monitored concentration data with which to assess current air quality and the impacts of policy implementation.

Standards and Guidelines

The minimum standards will be those set by the EC and DEFRA. However, local decision makers may select additional more stringent standards to work towards. The legislative position is dynamic and standards at national and EC level are being re-evaluated, new recommendations are being made and standards for new pollutant species are being introduced.

Simulation Modelling

Simulation modelling can be used to assess current and potential future air quality in order to enable informed policy decisions to be made. Current emissions and monitoring data can be used to validate an emissions and dispersion model, which can then be used to forecast future changes based upon a range of 'what if' scenarios. The model, once developed, is the key to assessing future local air quality management needs. It has relatively high capital costs, requires technical staff to set up and run the model and it will need to be updated regularly.

Public Information and Its Dissemination

The public will also have an influential role within an air quality strategy, as the management activities of the strategy can impact upon the public by changing their activities and expectations. Consequently, the public must be involved in goal-setting, perhaps through undertaking a public attitude survey in order to identify expectations and needs. They should also be informed in accessible ways of the development of the strategy and its success in improving air quality. Clear information is needed about how the public can complain about air quality. In this way, public information will help in allowing the public to become involved in identifying problems and implementing solutions.

Air Quality Alert

A discrete component of an air quality management strategy must be the establishment of a set of procedures to deal with the occasional acute occurrence of very poor air quality. It is therefore necessary for the various agencies involved to decide and agree upon a number of threshold concentrations at which an alert system would be triggered and the nature and priority of the procedures to be carried out in response to it.

Planning and Air Quality Management

The air quality strategy must be an agreed procedure by which air quality goals are progressively achieved across a specified time period. The period for an air quality strategic plan is, by necessity, long-term. The long time scale means that the land use and transport plans for a local authority can be integrated with the air quality management strategy, and the projected outcomes of the land use and transport plans tested within its framework. The air quality strategy thus becomes a means for integrating and testing alternatives within the Development Plan and Transport Planning and Policy (TPP) of local authorities, and for reconciling highway policies, car parking policies, public transport policies, shopping policies, cycling policies, pedestrian policies and industrial development policies with air quality goals.

Conclusion

The success of the strategy will be judged according to its success in reducing emissions of a range of air pollutants against specified local targets over an agreed time scale. It is recommended that a variety of indicators are also used which express emissions on an annual basis according to a range of other socio-economic variables.