Low emission zones and air quality

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Low emission zones are designed to help contribute to improvements in local air quality.

Air quality in Scotland has improved in recent years and we are meeting both domestic and European air quality targets across much of the country. However, it is still the case that hotspots of poor air quality remain an issue at a number of urban locations.

A key cause remains road transport with the main transport-related air pollutants being:

  • nitrogen oxides (NOx) gases
  • fine particulate matter (PM – PM2.5 and PM10).

Despite reductions in NOx of 39% and PM by 2% between 2007 and 2014 (Building Scotland’s Low Emission Zones: A Consultation, 2017), work is still required if Scotland is to meet European limit values (as required by directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe). The requirements are set out in the Air Quality Standards (Scotland) regulations 2010 and the Scottish air quality objectives and standards, as set out in the Air Quality (Scotland) regulations 2000 (and amendment regulations of 2002 and 2016). Further information can be found at the Scottish Air Quality website.

The Environment Act 1995 and associated regulations require local authorities to review and assess air quality in their areas on a regular basis and, where problems are identified, declare Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) and develop air quality action plans. In Scotland, authorities are expected to liaise with Transport Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and other relevant organisations when developing air quality action plan measures.

Local Air Quality Management (LAQM)

LAQM has been in place since 1997 and Policy Guidance, introduced by the Scottish Government in 2016, sets out the revised policy framework for improving local air quality, with local authorities holding the responsibility to deliver LAQM objectives and Scottish air quality assessments. The LAQM process has resulted in a number of Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) being declared in Scotland, most of which are due to emissions from road traffic.

Local authorities with AQMAs have prepared action plans which include transport-related measures aimed at improving local air quality, such as:

  • reduced vehicle idling
  • traffic management (using Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS))
  • improved cycling uptake/active travel measures
  • encouraging use of public transport
  • introduction of cleaner low emission vehicles
  • parking policies
  • freight logistic planning of consolidation centres.

The Scottish Government provides funding to local authorities with AQMAs to help deliver action plan measures.