Planners told to consider air quality in new developments

The government’s new planning framework, launched this week, instructs council planners to ensure that the air quality impact of new developments is considered when considering planning policy.

However, a leading expert in air quality and planning, has called for updated guidance to ensure a ‘strategic approach’ is adopted by local authority planning officers in relation to the issue.

Government’s NPPF was published on Monday

Prime Minister Theresa May launched a draft of the government’s new National Planning Policy Framework on Monday – aiming to encourage councils to meet home-building targets and provide more land for new developments.

But, among wider changes within the new NPPF is updated wording around how planners should approach issues around air quality when considering new developments.

Air quality

New text in the document suggests that planners should take into account the ‘presence of Air Quality Management Areas and Clean Air Zones’ as well as any potential measures to mitigate the impacts of new developments and sites.

It states: “Planning policies and decisions should sustain and contribute towards compliance with relevant limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas and Clean Air Zones, and the cumulative impacts from individual sites in local areas.

“Opportunities to improve air quality or mitigate impacts should be identified, such as through traffic and travel management, and green infrastructure provision and enhancement. So far as possible these opportunities should be considered at the plan-making stage, to ensure a strategic approach and limit the need for issues to be reconsidered when determining individual applications.

“Planning decisions should ensure that any new development in Air Quality Management Areas and Clean Air Zones is consistent with the local air quality action plan.”

Guidance

Speaking to Air Quality News, Roger Barrowcliffe, an independent air quality consultant and vice chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM), has said that the wording of the NPPF contains some ‘important concepts’ relevant to air quality but said that more detailed ‘supporting guidance’ would be needed for this to have more impact.

He said: “It is hard to disagree with the sentiment or spirit of the paragraph. It contains some important concepts that are vital to the principles of improving air quality through the planning system.  Signposting the need to consider air quality strategically, at the plan stage, is welcome, for example.

Guidance for planners was launched by EPUK and IAQM in 2015

“It should be remembered, however, that this is very much a planning framework and real influence on air quality is ultimately brought to bear through actions that flow from specific policies at local level and supporting guidance.

“As such, the guidance set out by DCLG on its web pages is less than extensive and couched in conditional language. Making this guidance more rigorous and forceful would ultimately be more effective than amending the NPPF.”

IAQM has previously collaborated with Environmental Protection UK to produce guidance for planners on issues relating to air quality (see airqualitynews.com story).

Initially launched in 2015, the guidance sets principles of good practice when planning developments, such as: not contravening a council’s Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP); not creating ‘street canyons’ which inhibit pollution dispersion; setting minimum emissions standards for all local gas-fired combined heat and power plants; and that a development should be designed to minimise public exposure to air pollution.

The guidance also takes readers through the Air Quality Assessment process and provides an overview of the local planning system, but it does not cover specific assessment of “odour or construction dust effects that some developments give rise to”.

Related Links
Draft National Planning Policy Framework