The 2008 ambient air quality directive (2008/50/EC) sets legally binding limits for concentrations in ambient (outdoor) air of major air pollutants that are known to have a significant impact on human health including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Following the UK’s exit from the EU, under retained EU law, the UK is required to continue meeting limit and target values for a range of air pollutants covered by the directive.
The 2008 directive replaced most of the earlier EU air quality legislation and was made law in Scotland through the Air Quality Standards (Scotland) Regulations 2010. The Regulations also incorporates the 4th air quality daughter directive (2004/107/EC) that sets targets for levels in ambient air of specific heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These regulations are currently being amended to include changes required following EU exit. Equivalent regulations exist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Further legislation is also in place to control emissions of air pollutants, with the main legislation being the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol. The Protocol was originally adopted by the executive body in 1999 to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level Ozone and sets emission ceilings for 2010 for sulphur, NOx, VOCs and ammonia. Similar ceilings have since been set in European law under the 2001 National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC), which was subsequently made into UK law as the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002. The Protocol has since been amended in 2012 to include national emission reduction commitments to be achieved in 2020 and beyond. To reflect the amended Protocol, a new National Emission Ceilings Directive came into effect in 2016 (2016/2284/EC), replacing the 2001 directive. The 2016 directive was transposed into UK law by the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018, which also revoke the 2002 regulations. As with the ambient air quality directive, the NECD forms part of retained EU law. Further information on the protocol is available at .
The European Commission recently undertook a comprehensive review of existing EU air policy, building on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. Following on from the review, in December 2013 the Commission has adopted a Clean Air Policy Package which includes a new Clean Air Programme for Europe with new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030. Further information on the review is available from
UK and Scottish Air Quality Legislation
The UK Government leads on the UK’s input to International and European legislation relating to Air Quality, with input from the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations. Linking to the requirements of the EU Directives, the UK Air Quality Strategy published in July 2007 established the framework for air quality improvements across the UK. Measures agreed at the national and international level are the foundations on which the strategy is based. The strategy sets out the Air Quality Standards and Objectives which have been set to benchmark air quality in terms of protecting human health and the environment.
However, within the UK, air quality is a devolved matter, with the Scottish Government having responsibility for the development of air quality policy and legislation for Scotland.
Local Air Quality Management (LAQM)
The Air Quality Strategy establishes a framework for the improvement of air quality and focusses on measures agreed at a UK and international level. However, it was recognised, that despite such strategic measures, areas of poor air quality would likely remain, and that these will best be dealt with using local measures implemented through the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) regime. Part IV of The Environment Act 1995 sets provisions for protecting air quality in the UK and for local air quality management.
The system of Local Air Quality Management has been in place in the UK since 1997. The role of the LAQM review and assessment process is to review local air quality, identify all relevant locations where the air quality objectives are being or are likely to be exceeded. Where an area of exceedance is identified, the local authority is required to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and implement an Air Quality Action Plan to improve air quality within the areas.
The LAQM Technical Guidance (LAQM.TG(16)) (PDF) and The Scottish Government Policy Guidance for LAQM (LAQM.PG(S)(16) (PDF) specify the requirements and best practice within LAQM. A series of LAQM Tools have also been developed to assist local authorities with this task.
Following Royal Assent of the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Bill on the 19th February 2014, Local Authorities in Scotland are no longer required to undertake Further Assessments of Air Quality following the declaration of an Air Quality Management Area. Under Section 37 of the Bill, subsection 1 of section 84 of the Environment Act 1995 (duties of local authorities in relation to designated areas) is repealed and replaced with the following:
‘Where an order under section 83 above comes into operation, the local authority which made the order shall prepare, in accordance with the following provisions of this Part, a written plan (in this Part referred to as an “action plan”) for the exercise by the authority, in pursuit of the achievement of air quality standards and objectives in the designated area, of any powers exercisable by the authority.’
Information on Local Air Quality Management within each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland is available from the LAQM section of this website.