I suffer from asthma – how does air quality affect me?

Certain sensitive individuals who are more susceptible to respiratory pollution may feel the effects more acutely, or at lower levels. These individuals include those who suffer from heart and lung disease, including asthma and bronchitis, especially young children and the elderly.

Will this increase my chances of suffering from asthma?

For most people, pollution levels in the UK are unlikely to cause any serious health effect; during particularly severe pollution episodes, eye irritation or coughing may be triggered.

Is the air I breathe dirty?

Anyone who lives close to a busy road will notice that their curtains and windows etc get dirty more quickly than a 'quiet country area'.

What is East Devon District Council going to do about 'Air Quality Management Areas' (AQMAs)?

  • The Council has a legal duty to designate areas where exceedances of relevant standards are likely (in this case the yearly average for nitrogen dioxide).
  • We must carry out further more detailed modelling and monitoring as part of this process.
  • We must draw up an action plan to work towards achieving the required standards.
  • Most of the actions required to reduce pollution levels are beyond our direct control and we must work with the relevant organisations to work towards achieving the reductions required.
  • The Government must achieve the required standards by 2010, or face fines from the European Courts.
  • We will work with relevant organisations and the Government to ensure the levels are achieved.

What are the implications for property values?

  • Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) are not subject to land searches.
  • Many other Councils have declared AQMAs and to the best of our knowledge there have been no reported effects on property values.

How should Councils treat proposals for developments inside AQMAs, or likely AQMAs?

  • AQMA designation does not mean that there should be no new development inside the area. Such an approach could sterilise development, particularly where, for example, Councils have designated (or intend to designate) their entire areas as air quality management areas.
  • When a Council is considering an application for a development inside, or near to, an actual or proposed AQMA, air quality will certainly need to be taken into account. In reaching its decision, the weight attached to air quality relative to other factors will, of course, vary from case to case, depending on local circumstances. More weight, for example, may need to be given to air quality where a development would have a significant, adverse impact on air quality inside, or adjacent to, an air quality management area than where the air quality effects of the development itself are likely to be minimal.
  • All applications for development inside AQMAs should be supported by sufficient information to allow full consideration of their likely impact on local air quality. It is therefore important that developers are aware of the existence of any AQMAs. It may be appropriate in some cases for the developer to fund mitigating measures elsewhere inside the AQMA to offset any increase in local pollutant emissions as a consequence of the proposed development, or to pay for the purchase of monitoring equipment. These measures could be introduced through section 106 agreements.
  • In considering whether a site inside an AQMA is an appropriate location for new housing, We may also wish to consider by how great a margin the air quality objectives are currently exceeded, and when they are forecast to be achieved.

What is included in an order designating an AQMA?

  • Section 83 of the Environment Act 1995 requires us to 'by order designate as an AQMA any part of its area in which it appears that those objectives are not likely to be achieved within the relevant period'. It does not, however, explicitly state what should be contained in an order.
  • The NSCA ’s guidance note ('Air Quality Management Areas: Turning Reviews into Action') suggests it should include a map showing the area to be designated. It is sensible to include a verbal description of the area. An example for a larger AQMA might be 'an area bordered on the north and east by the council’s own boundary, on the south by a line 50 metres to the south of the A45, and on the east by a line 50 metres to the east of the B1108'. For a smaller AQMA, a more detailed description listing individual streets or other physical features might be appropriate. In some cases, it may be appropriate to list the individual properties affected, although there is no legal requirement to do this. Sometimes it is useful to include a summary of the number and type of properties affected. This information should be readily available from the review and assessment reports.  It should include the date on which it is intended that the AQMA should come into force, and a list of the pollutants for which the AQMA has been designated. Authorities should notify the DETR , Greater London Authority, National Assembly for Wales or Scottish Executive as appropriate that an AQMA has been designated, and should publicise the fact widely in the local media and, where possible, on the internet.

Should cost-effectiveness be part of the decision to declare an AQMA?

No. Cost-effectiveness comes into consideration when considering which remedial actions would be appropriate.

Is it necessary to declare an AQMA for a single isolated cottage or row of cottages next to a motorway or trunk road?

  • Section 83 of the Environment Act requires a council to designate as an AQMA any part of its area in which it appears that the objectives are unlikely to be achieved.
  • The air quality regulations go on to make clear that compliance with the objectives is to be assessed at outdoor locations where members of the public are regularly present.
  • Councils are therefore under a clear duty to review and assess air quality, and, where appropriate, designate AQMAs, wherever people are likely to be regularly exposed. It is not possible to exclude locations from the review and assessment process on the grounds that only a few people are likely to be exposed there. Nor is it possible to prescribe a minimum size for an AQMA. This means that for AQMA designation, isolated cottages are relevant locations.

Once an AQMA has been designated, however, the following approach is recommended in circumstances where the costs of remedial action are likely to outweigh any potential benefits:

  • Further assessment of air quality inside the AQMA – if it is clear that the road is the primary cause of the problem (as seems likely in these cases), little further monitoring should be necessary. A rough assessment of the costs and benefits of various possible solutions should be summarised in the report of the further assessment.
  • Action plan - Councils must be proportionate and cost-effective in taking action about air quality. In practice, it is unlikely that local authorities will be able to take any cost-effective action in these circumstances, and they may wish to limit their action plan to measures such as undertaking to discuss possible solutions with the Highways Agency.