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The regulatory framework for air quality

International and national drivers

Air quality has been identified as important to human health and wellbeing for many years. In addition it has a range of occupational, environmental and economic impacts. As a consequence there has been a great deal of research carried out and a number of international and national bodies have issued guidance and advice.

The development of recommendations on ambient air quality and their incorporation into UK law can be traced back through the European Commission and World Health Organisation. This has led to the adoption of robust internationally recognised standards.

This section summarises how the current UK regulations have been developed into the current regulatory framework for air quality.

International drivers for air quality

The European Commission (EC) has considered and accepted the World Health Organisation proposed levels and consequently incorporated these standards into EC law via a number of European Directives. The most current of these is the Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC).

These directives instruct member states to implement legislation to impose the standards and once a directive has been issued the member states have to implement the requirements via their own national legislative frameworks.

Development of air quality legislation in the UK

In the case of the UK, the requirement to manage and improve local air quality was incorporated into the Environment Act 1995. The supporting air quality regulations and guidance were subsequently issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
This legislation imposes a duty on Local Authorities to inspect their areas to identify areas where local air pollution may be a problem and where necessary, to measure and assess the levels of pollution in those areas.

The legislation and guidance specifies which pollutants are to be considered and how they are to be assessed or measured. If a significant failure of the air quality standard is found the Local Authority has to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and take steps to try to reduce the levels of pollution.

In addition to the local authority monitoring, Defra also established a series of national monitoring stations at key locations around the UK to provide a nationwide overview of air quality.

Related legislation and activity

Whilst the driving legislation behind the  air quality strategy is the Environment Act 1995 there are a range of other activities and duties carried out by Wiltshire Council which directly and indirectly have an impact on the ambient air quality. These include Transport and Highways, Spatial Planning, Development Control and Green Economy.

Many of these areas of work have specific duties to consider air quality as part of their own remit and supporting strategies. Additionally it is likely that the majority of air quality improvements will be obtained via planning or highways intervention. It is therefore critical to identify these areas of mutual interest.