Local Councils as the front line in tackling air pollution

Construction site, with 3 cranes erecting a building

The air quality space at the moment is an exciting one, with policy makers and businesses committing to action. None more-so than at the city level, where cities such as Birmingham and Glasgow are looking to take bold action on the issue.

Local councils have far more powers to tackle air pollution than most think they do. It’s not just about Air Quality Management Areas and Action Plans, monitoring of levels of air pollution, or even Clean Air Zones and Ultra Low Emission Zones, as well-intentioned as they are.

Many local councils are increasingly using the planning system to help manage emissions from major developments. This is not new on the highways side; agreements made under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 are frequently used to secure improvements to reduce congestion caused by a new development. Additionally, planning conditions can restrict delivery times in unsociable hours or during peak periods. The are also used to implement general environmental mitigations on new developments like planting new habitats to offset emissions.

But the councils I’ve been working with are going one step further. Planning conditions can be used to restrict emissions arising from new developments, so long as they comply with 6 tests associated with planning conditions. Whilst they cannot be used to tackle existing air pollution issues, they can be used to stop existing air pollution issues becoming worse as a result of a new development.

Probably the most critical of these six tests is that the conditions are enforceable. Static tubes and mobile monitoring equipment can do this, but there is a difference between enforcement and effective enforcement. The ability to enforce breaches in emissions in real time not only ensures that action can be taken swiftly, but local communities can have the confidence that they will not have to wait weeks after the fact until enforcement action is taken.

This is part of the reason why some of the leading Councils are looking to engage with us. I know how civic minded the majority of public sector employees are. If solutions such as EMSOL’s can help with that, then that is a big win for us all.

Local councils have one of the biggest roles to play in tackling air quality issues, and this is something I hope to explore more over the forthcoming weeks. In the meantime, we are looking for more forward-thinking Councils to get in touch with us.

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