Defra consults on local air quality legislation

A six-week consultation on the ‘shortcomings’ of the government’s Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) legislation in England was launched by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Friday (July 1).

The consultation concerns regulations in the Environment Act 1995, which established the LAQM system under which all local authorities are required to regularly review and assess air quality in their areas against national objectives for several air pollutants.

Defra is overseeing the £1 million fund

Defra has launched a consultation on local air quality management legislation

According to Defra, the LAQM has not been comprehensively reviewed since it came into operation in 1997 and there is a consensus that such a review is overdue to increase the effectiveness of the legislation.

Defra states that ‘there is a need to reinvigorate and refocus LAQM’ to help the UK meet EU air quality standards and to help ‘clarify its role alongside other actions to improve air quality (by national government etc)’.

Although LAQM has ‘greatly improved’ the sources and extent of air pollution, few local authorities have been able to revoke designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and the legislation is ‘very administrative and report and diagnosis driven’ and does ‘not usually take into account compliance with EU limit values’, the consultation document states.

It first emerged in May’s Queen Speech that the government would be seeking to modify LAQM legislation as part of the Deregulation Bill to cut bureaucracy (see airqualitynews.com story). The Bill could see local authorities no longer needing to produce air quality assessments after designating AQMAs.

Currently, when a local authority finds an area in its jurisdiction in breach of national legal air quality objectives it can declare an AQMA, which enables the authority to apply for special funding to monitor and tackle the air pollution problem.

After an AQMA is declared, a council is then obliged to produce an Air Quality Action Plan for submission to Defra. The Act stipulates that councils then have 12 months to carry out a ‘Further Assessment’ of air quality in the designated zone.

Significant challenge

However, the new consultation document states that meeting EU limit values is a ‘significant challenge’ and that there is also a ‘significant infraction risk’ from the EU for not meeting these limits.

Therefore, it states that is ‘perhaps more important that local authorities focus their actions on what is needed to achieve these obligations and to reduce the public health impacts of poor air quality rather than to continue their current focus on local assessment and reporting.’

The consultation is principally aimed at air quality practitioners in England and runs until August 30 2013, after which Defra will hold a workshop to gather further evidence and compile a summary of responses online. More information about the consultation is available on the Defra website.