National Air Quality Law and Policy

Air pollution has a devastating impact on the UK population, shortening lives, causing early deaths and ill health. It is a bigger global killer than smoking. It costs the UK economy over £20 billion a year. Air pollution needs direct action by the UK government to address widespread sources of pollution (such as transport, buildings, energy and industry), supported by other levels of government tackling local hotspots and implementing solutions locally. This needs stringent, legally binding targets, a process for identifying effective measures, a requirement for all levels and parts of government to take the necessary action, and adequate and appropriate monitoring. It will also require an independent route for enforcement and oversight.

The government are working to introduce a new Environment Act. The government have promised that “environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced” after the UK leaves the European Union.

EPUK considers that to implement new legislation, especially if the UK is no longer subject to the European Union’s environmental protection regime, will require more stringent measures and legislation than is proposed in the draft Bill.

The Air Quality Committee have produced a list of 12 Air Quality Asks for the Environment Bill.  We are working with others to ensure the new Environment Bill delivers robust protection for environment and health.

The Committee also submitted a response to the Government’s consultation on the Draft Policy Statement on Environmental Principles.

The Committee also submitted evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee’s Joint Inquiry on the draft Environment Bill.

Clean Air Strategy

The UK Government have been subject to infraction proceedings for breaching the EU Air Quality Directive and have been repeatedly taken to Court by campaign group ClientEarth for failing to comply with the Air Quality Directive, and failing to produce an adequate National Plan to reduce NO2 pollution.

The 2017 National Plan has been deemed inadequate by the High Court, which required:

 ‘…the Secretary of State… must aim to achieve compliance by the soonest date possible; he must choose a route to that objective which reduces exposure as quickly as possible; and that he must take steps which mean meeting the value limits is not just possible, but likely.”. See judgment here.

In the recent consultation on the draft Clean Air Strategy, we raised a number of points, welcoming the government’s recognition of a wider range of sources, and calling for more action. We were disappointed that the final Clean Air Strategy did not reflect all these points.

We wrote to the government about the most recent National Plan on NO2 on National Clean Air Day 2017, to raise concerns over their lack of ambition and lack of action.

To support this, our President, Lord Whitty, wrote to the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, about this national plan and our proposed commission.

We also submitted written evidence to the Joint Select Committee Inquiry on Air Pollution, outlining the key issues of concern.

The UK Government had been previously required, by the Supreme Court, to produce a National Plan by the end of 2015 which would allow the UK to meet the NO2 limit values as soon as possible. The government consulted on the draft National Plan. We submitted a robust response raising concerns over the plans, their evidence and the lack of support for the local measures included, and calling for more government action by Defra and other government departments.

The Government also consulted on guidance for Clean Air Zones, a key pillar of both National Plans. Again, there was significant concerns about these. This consultation coincided with the High Courts decision that the 2015 National Plan was inadequate, so we addressed some wider issues within this response.

Local Air Quality Management

Part IV of the Environment Act 1995, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, and the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002, requires all local authorities in the UK to review and assess air quality in their area. If any standards are being exceeded or are unlikely to be met by the required date, then that area should be designated an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and the local authority must draw up and implement an action plan aimed at reducing levels of the pollutant. Local authorities are required to make copies of their reviews and assessments of local air quality available to the public, as well as any orders designating an AQMA, and to consult locally on the action plan. In many areas, traffic is likely to be the main contributor to excessive levels of pollution

In December 2015 the government launched a third consultation on Local Air Quality Management, this time on the proposed Technical and Policy Guidance. Whilst we welcomed the updated guidance for Local Air Quality Management, and the aims to streamline reporting, introduce a role for local authorities in reducing emissions of PM2.5, and clarify roles and responsibilities, there were a number of places where the guidance (and the underlying LAQM system) could be strengthened, to achieve more effective action and earlier compliance with the national objectives and the EU directive. We raised these in our response to the consultation.

In the government’s second consultation on the future of the Local Air Quality Management Framework, although the main consultation report included some good ideas, the detail was either lacking (as it will be added through guidance at a later stage) or alarming, with the Impact Assessment including some extreme assumptions when assessing costs and benefits.  We raised these concerns with Defra in our consultation response.

In 2013, the government consulted on the future of the Local Air Quality Management Framework. We submitted a robust response as we thought their preferred option would have a catastrophic impact on air quality and public health, as it removed the duty on local authorities to assess and act on areas of poor air quality.

Environmental Protection UK submitted an initial letter outlining an alternative option to those proposed by government, as none of the four options are appropriate and adequate to deliver benefits to air quality and public health. We invited others to support this option in their consultation responses or in writing to Defra.

We subsequently also submitted a response to the government’s consultation questionnaire.

Defra have also consulted on the need for Further Assessments (one of the reports required from Local Authorities in the LAQM Framework). Our response to this consultation is below:


Some local authorities have adopted specific by-laws to control sources of air pollution and nuisance. However, these can be hard to enforce as surveillance is often difficult and the culprit hard to track down. Often the nuisance has ceased by the time an official can get to the scene.

Where to find out about air quality

Your local authority environmental health department should be able to advise you on air quality in your area. The UK National Air Quality Information Archive also monitors air quality nationally, on a daily basis:
Tel: 0800 556677 or visit Teletext page 156.

Similar websites are available specifically covering:

Northern Ireland –
Scotland –
Wales –

Road transport

Exhaust Emissions

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations govern the standards to which new motor vehicles must be manufactured, including standards for exhaust emissions. Vehicle exhaust testing has been included in the annual MOT since 1991. The Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) carries out roadside tests on heavy goods vehicles and can ban further use of a smoking vehicle until it has been adjusted or repaired. However, only the police have the powers to stop a vehicle on the road if it is producing so much smoke as to be a hazard to other drivers.

You can report smoky buses, coaches and lorries to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) (0870 606 0440). Following a complaint the operator is notified and requested to clean up their vehicle. There is no mechanism for reporting privately owned vehicles.

Fixed Penalty Notices

Where an AQMA has been declared, local authorities in England and Wales can apply for powers to carry out roadside emissions testing under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002 and the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (Wales) Regulations 2003. In Scotland all local authorities have these powers available to them, under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (Scotland) Regulations 2003.

Authorised and adequately trained persons can then carry out an emissions test on a vehicle being driven through, or about to pass through, an AQMA and if an offence has been committed a fixed penalty of £60 can be issued. A driver can also be required to submit their vehicle to a test and to produce a test certificate. If the fixed penalty is not paid within the given timeframe it can rise to £90.

Stationary Idling

Fixed penalty notices of £20 can also be issued by an authorised local authority officer in England, Wales and Scotland to motorists who leave their engines running unnecessarily (e.g. waiting outside school/station), having asked them to switch them off. This rises to £40 if it is not paid within the given timeframe.

Leaded Fuel

All new petrol vehicles now run on unleaded fuel and the sale of leaded petrol was banned in January 2000. For the small amount of older vehicles that will not run on unleaded fuel, special lead replacement petrol is available from some filling stations. Petrol producers and importers wishing to make leaded petrol available for use in classic and historic vehicles must apply for a permit from the Department for Transport.

Domestic fires

Under the Clean Air Act 1993 (or Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 local authorities can declare the whole or part of their district to be a Smoke Control Zone. This means that it is an offence to cause smoke from a chimney, and for any person or company to obtain or deliver unauthorised fuel to a building, unless the appliance in use is exempt. Ordinary bituminous coal and wood are not authorised fuels. Around 50% of households live in Smoke Control Areas, and those using solid fuel must therefore ensure that they use an authorised smokeless fuel and/or an exempt appliance.

For more information go to Using Wood and Coal for Home Heating.

The Clean Air Act is currently under review, and Environmental Protection UK is keen to ensure that this continues to protect air quality, especially in light of the increased use of solid fuels in urban environments. Please see our response to the Government’s consultations on the Clean Air Act 1993 Review below:

Breach of a smoke control order can lead to prosecution by the local authority. Your local environmental health department will be able to tell you if your area is smoke controlled and advise you on authorised fuels and appliances. Smoke control orders do not apply to domestic bonfires – these are covered by nuisance legislation.


Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (England, Scotland and Wales) a statutory nuisance can be any dust or effluvia from any trade or business premises or smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance. For a nuisance action to succeed the offence also has to be a cause of material harm or to be persistent or likely to recur. Nuisances may include smoke from bonfires, unpleasant odours, grit and dust. (In Northern Ireland statutory nuisances are currently regulated under the Public Health (Ireland) Act 1878, as amended, which includes powers for local authorities to serve abatement notices. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill introduced into the NI Assembly in June 2010 makes provision for similar controls to those applying in the rest of the UK.)

In many cases a friendly approach to a neighbour or business can resolve the problem. If this fails, complaints should be made to your local environmental health department. If they are satisfied that a nuisance exists steps will be taken to abate the nuisance. This may involve serving a legal notice, which, if ignored, can result in proceedings in the Magistrates Court (Scotland – Sheriff Court). The Courts may impose an order to prevent the nuisance and a fine. Continued non-compliance can lead to further fines. The local authority also has power to abate the nuisance itself and recover costs.

If for any reason your local authority is unwilling to act on your behalf you may apply directly to the Magistrates Court (Scotland – Sheriff Court) for a nuisance order. In such cases it is essential to compile a proper record of occurrence of the nuisance and its effect on you. The support of independent witnesses will also help. In any event it is possible that the complainants may be called upon to give evidence in nuisance proceedings.

Industrial air pollution

Industrial processes have been regulated for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) for some time now, introduced by the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999. These regulations were phased in sector-by-sector up to October 2007, taking over from mechanisms established in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This has now been subsumed into the Environmental Permitting Regulations will also implement the EC’s new Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). The IED consolidates IPPC with other sector-specific Directives such as for Large Combustion Plant, Waste Incinerators etc In Northern Ireland a similar regime is in operation with regulations made under the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002. More details below.


It is an offence for factories and trade premises to emit dark smoke from their chimneys under the Clean Air Act 1993 (or Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order 1981), except when it is unavoidable (e.g. on lighting up). Current technology should allow efficient combustion, free of dark smoke at all times. Dark smoke emissions from open burning (bonfires) on industrial or trade premises (including demolition sites) or agricultural land is also prohibited, except in very limited circumstances. ‘Dark’ smoke is a shade of grey defined by law.

Grit and Dust

The amount of grit and dust emitted from the chimney of non-domestic boilers and some furnaces is also controlled by the Clean Air Act 1993 (NI – 1981 Order). This legislation ensures that newly installed industrial plants have adequate arrestment equipment and that where emissions from a plant appear excessive a local authority can require measurements to be made of emissions to the atmosphere.

Integrated pollution prevention control/ Environmental permitting

The system of Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) replaced the previous Local Authority Pollution Control and Integrated Pollution Control systems. IPPC was implemented through separate Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations 2000 in England and Wales and in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland through separate 2003 Regulations. The transferral process to the new system was completed in October 2007. In England and Wales the PPC Regulations have been replaced by the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPRs).

The EPRs cover a wide range of industries, including fuel production and power generation, metal production and processing, mineral industries, chemical industries, waste disposal and recycling, food and drink processing and intensive livestock installations. All industries covered by the EPRs must obtain a permit to operate from the appropriate regulator. This covers all aspects of an installation’s activities, including noise and vibration, heat, energy efficiency and accident prevention policy. For new installations an environmental impact assessment must also be available.

Permit conditions are based on the use of Best Available Techniques (BAT), which balances the cost to the operators against benefits to the environment. Where a breach of legally binding EU air quality limit values is caused by a particular industrial installation more stringent permit limits than BAT must be imposed.

In England and Wales certain installations are regulated for emissions to air, water and land by the Environment Agency and from 1 April 2013, Natural Resources Wales, respectively. A lesser number of smaller, or less complex, installations regulated by local authorities. All such installations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are regulated by either the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (as appropriate).

A number of smaller installations are regulated for their emissions to air only. These installations include many solvent using processes, timber activities and crematoria, and are regulated by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by SEPA in Scotland.

Copies of applications and other documentation for all permits, subject to certain exemptions, are put in the Public Register maintained by the regulator. Various other statutory bodies will also be consulted (representing, for example, health interests, sites of special scientific or other local interests etc). A copy of all comments is put in the Register, although members of the public may request that their comments are not recorded on the register.

Complaints about any process or installation should in the first instance be made to the operator. If no satisfactory solution can be reached the regulator should be contacted. You can contact your environmental health (or pollution control) department at your local authority offices.

The Environment Agency has seven regional offices. Their head office is at:

Environment Agency
Horizon House, Deanery Road
Bristol BS1 5AH
Tel: 0117 934 4001

Emergency hotline: 0800 807060

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has regional offices across Wales (details can be found on its website). The head office is at:

Natural Resources Wales
Tŷ Cambria
29 Newport Road
CF24 0TP

Tel: 0300 065 3000

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has regional offices across Scotland (details can be found on its website). The head office is at:

Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Erskine House
The Castle Business Park
Stirling FK9 4TR

Tel: 01786 457700

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency is an executive agency of the Department of Environment (NI), with main offices in Belfast and Lisburn.

Klondyke Building
Cromac Avenue
Gasworks Business Park
Lower Ormeau Road

Pollution hotline 0800 80 70 60

The Industrial Pollution and Radiochemical Inspectorate is part of NIEA and can be contacted through the details already listed above.


Planning and pollution control

Most new industrial developments require planning permission; certain types of developments will also need to carry out an environmental impact assessment as part of the planning procedure. The public have a right to comment on planning applications, which are advertised in the local press and copies placed on the local planning register.

When drawing up their development plans (now known as Local Development Frameworks) and making decisions on individual applications local authorities must have regard to Government guidance on pollution control. In England the relevant document is the National Planning Policy Framework 2012; in Scotland Planning Advice Note 51, Planning, Environmental Protection and Regulation provides supplementary advice in support of Scottish Planning Policy which sets out the national framework.. Planning Policy Wales sets out land use policies of the Welsh Assembly Government and in Northern Ireland PPS 1 sets out general principles for land use.

The planning system in England is changing, and Environmental Protection UK are keen that this continues to protect and improve air quality.  Our response to the consultation on Planning Guidance, following the Taylor Review is available here.

Further contacts

If your air pollution problem is caused by a neighbour and legal action is not appropriate, mediation may help. Your local authority or the Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to tell you if there is a mediation service in your area.

Citizens Advice Bureau

If you have a specific pollution problem and the appropriate regulatory authority does not appear to be taking sufficient action, the Environmental Law Foundation can offer consultation with legal and technical experts.

The Environmental Law Foundation
Tel: 020 7404 1030

Start typing and press Enter to search