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Council air quality reporting to change in 2016

Changes to local air quality management (LAQM) requirements, removing four pollutants, will come into force in 2016

Controversial changes aimed at streamlining the way in which local authorities in England and Scotland manage and report on their progress towards reducing air pollution are set to come into force later this year, the government has confirmed.

Aerial photograph of the Neath Port Talbot county borough council AQMA, where concerns over dust pollution have in the past been raised due to the nearby Tata Steel factory

Experts responded to Defra’s consultation on proposals that could affect local monitoring of Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs), such as this in Neath Port Talbot

The new streamlined approach to local air quality management (LAQM) places greater emphasis on action planning to “bring forward improvements in air quality and to include local measures as part of EU reporting requirements”.

And, according to Defra, the changes will reduce the administrative burden on councils by around 30-40%.

However, the plans have been criticised for lacking meaningful tools or requirements for councils to improve air quality and public health.

Last week (March 24) Defra published a summary of responses to a recent consultation over the proposals and confirmed that the changes to council pollution reporting will be in place from the middle of 2016.

Under the changes, councils will no longer have to report on four pollutants – 1, 3 Butadiene; benzene; carbon monoxide; and lead – in recognition, it said, of “the fact that all of the objectives for these pollutants have been met for several years and are now well below limit values”.

Local authorities will still need to report to the government on progress tackling nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter PM 10 and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

And, they have been given an additional specified role to work towards reducing levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) – a pollutant previously absent from LAQM requirements – although as this role is in its introductory stage Defra is “keen to hear from authorities in their ASRs how they interpret this role on the basis of local circumstances and priorities”.

But, instead of sending several reports to central government each year on local air quality, the changes will mean councils only having to produce just one annual progress report with the aim of reducing red tape.

“Improving air quality and public health should be the prime aim of the new LAQM guidance. Action plans need to be effective and auditable and directors of public health fully involved, yet Defra is largely silent on these issues” – Claire Holman, IAQM chair

A template to assist councils in producing air quality action plans (AQAPs), as well as a new option to fast-track the introduction of an air quality management area (AQMA), are also being brought in under the changes.

IAQM

The Institute for Air Quality Management (IAQM), which represents hundreds of UK air quality professionals, said that despite all the effort to bring in the changes, it was unconvinced the new streamlined approach would bring any positive meaningful improvement to UK air quality.

IAQM chair, Claire Holman was broadly in favour of dropping reporting requirements of the four aforementioned pollutants as these “are no longer so much of a problem”.

However, she told AirQualityNews.com: “Improving air quality and public health should be the prime aim of the new LAQM guidance. Action plans need to be effective and auditable and directors of public health fully involved, yet Defra is largely silent on these issues. I have no confidence that the final guidance will address IAQM’s core issues [boosting air quality and public health].”

Defra

The proposals were also previously criticised by the likes of King’s College London and Environmental Protection UK (see AirQualityNews.com story), but Defra claims its changes will “reduce the reporting burden, introduce greater consistency and ensure that quality of information is retained”.

Defra’s consultation document said: “This streamlined approach is intended to help local authorities focus more resources on taking action.”

Consultation responses

The government intends to put the revised approach to LAQM in place from the middle of this year, having last week published a summary of responses to its latest consultation on the plans, alongside its own explanation for the changes. An initial review is also likely to take place later this year.

There were a total of 72 responses to the consultation – which ran from 26 November 2015 until 21 January 2016 – including 49 local authorities in addition to Transport for Greater Manchester and Norfolk Environmental Protection Group.

As well as these councils, other respondents included ClientEarth, London Sustainability Exchange, Air Quality Consultants Ltd, Aether UK, Atkins Ltd, Autogas Ltd, the British Heart Foundation, UKLPG and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

LAQM

Under the current Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) system, which was established in the Environment Act 1995, all local authorities must regularly review and assess air quality in their areas for several pollutants against national objectives.

If an objective will not be achieved by a certain date, the authority concerned must declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and produce an action plan (AQAP) setting out how it intends to deal with the problem.

After declaring an AQMA, councils are required to carry out further assessments and update Defra on their progress towards reducing pollutant levels.

The new LAQM changes will affect England and Scotland. However, the LAQM system is still to be reviewed in Wales and Northern Ireland, while the Mayor of London is responsible for air quality in the UK capital and will therefore be producing separate reporting and guidance.

Related Links:

Defra summary of LAQM consultation responses

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