19. Under the Environment Act 1995 the Department
is obliged to keep the Strategy under review. To monitor air quality,
it established a network of over 100 air quality monitoring sites,
and commissioned AEA Technology and the National Physical Laboratory
to assess and control the accuracy and reliability of the results
reported by the network. It also intends to review the Strategy
on a pollutant by pollutant basis, and to evaluate the efficacy
of different policy mechanisms in practice. In September 2001
the Department published for consultation the results of its first
review, which covered particles, benzene and carbon monoxide,
and proposed adding a ninth pollutant, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The Department plans further reviews to be undertaken during 2002
covering nitrogen dioxide and objectives for the protection of
20. The Department received recommendations on a
standard for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from its expert
panel in 1999. The panel also recommended that the standard for
1,3-butadiene should be reviewed five years after it was set in
1994. The Department needed time to consult on the panel's recommendations
as there were complex issues involving difficult science. The
Department wanted to respond proportionately rather than just
quickly. The review of 1,3-butadiene had now been completed.
21. Local authorities are required to review and
assess air quality in their areas for seven of eight pollutants
covered by the Strategy. Where a local authority concludes that
the air quality objectives are unlikely to be achieved without
additional local action, it is required to designate the area
as an "Air Quality Management Area". It must then develop
and implement an action plan to improve air quality in the area.
Actions include traffic management and enforcement of vehicle
22. The Department felt that local authorities had
made significant progress in recent years. An initial deadline
for local authorities of the end of 1999 to complete their assessments
of air quality had been extended in recognition of the technical
challenge. By early 2001 around 70 per cent of authorities
had completed the process and this proportion had since risen
to 96 per cent.
23. A survey of local authorities in 1999 identified
the lack of expertise as potentially their single biggest problem
in improving air quality. The Department helped authorities with
guidance, help desks and external technical advice, and was being
consulted on their action plans. It was in touch with those authorities
which had not completed their assessments, and had agreed work
programmes with them. If any authorities failed to take action
the Department had reserve powers under the Environment Act 1995,
but did not expect use of these to be necessary. The Department
did not rank authorities in terms of the extent to which they
applied best practice in the management of air quality.
24. One possible action available to local authorities
was to issue fixed penalties to owners of vehicles failing emission
tests, but regulations were needed to give local authorities this
power. Draft regulations had been issued for consultation in October 2001.
The Department was considering the responses and intended to lay
the regulations once this process was complete. The proposed penalty
structure included a basic penalty of £60, rising to £90
if the penalty was not paid within 28 days. The penalty would
be reduced to £30 in certain circumstances, for example where
the motorist rectified the fault within 14 days.
25. The Department did not know the cost implications
for each local authority of acquiring expertise to develop air
quality management plans because it did not know yet what plans
were needed. It had, however, provided £2.5 million
for local authorities to spend on their air quality management
duties, although final decisions on such expenditure were a matter
for each local authority. The Department had also made available
£2.5 million in supplementary credit approvals for the
purchase of monitoring equipment and modelling software.
26. One of the Department's guiding principles in
developing the Strategy was that it should comply with the European
Union Air Quality Daughter Directive. Individual policy instruments,
for example decisions affecting the manufacturing and sale of
vehicles, might also be influenced by Europe because of their
implications for the Single Market. The Department had worked
very closely with Transport colleagues in providing the environmental
case for European standards for vehicle manufacturing. On ozone
in particular, it was working with other European Union member
states, and in the last two years had concluded two international
agreements to reduce European emissions of the ozone producing
27. The first air quality standards in the Strategy
were adopted in 1994, and covered eight pollutants, whereas the
European Union Air Quality Daughter Directive covered twelve pollutants.
The Department confirmed that the Directive was not more rigorous
than UK objectives. The additional pollutants were chiefly metals
produced by industrial plant, which were regulated by the Environment
28. Air quality is affected by policy instruments
operating in many different sectors of the economy, for example
road transport, industry, power stations, and domestic heating,
some of which are the responsibility of other government departments.
During the development of the Strategy the Department established
a special groupthe Interdepartmental Groupto liaise
with other government departments and the devolved administrations
in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
29. The Department intended to retain the Interdepartmental
Group in order to influence and monitor action by other departments.
Other departments' policies were expected to have regard to the
Strategy's objectives where possible, and other departments were
expected to consult the Department on matters affecting the Strategy.
For example, the Department had engaged with the Department of
Transport, Local Government and the Regions on transport matters
such as the recent decision about Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
It had drawn attention to obligations under the Air Quality Directives
and to the Planning Inspector's recommendation that BAA
should be required to produce and keep under review an action
plan showing how it intended to minimise emissions from Heathrow.
30. The Department was also responsible for other
environmental issues linked to air quality, such as indoor air
quality, radioactivity and climate change caused by carbon dioxide
emissions. These issues were dealt with by other Units within
the Department, which were separate from its Air Quality team.
They were, however, all within the Department's Directorate for
Environmental Protection. The Department also had a team of scientists
and economists to look at these issues together with the Department
of Health and other departments.
31. The Department plans to carry out an evaluation
of the efficacy of different policy instruments for improving
air quality. This evaluation should be completed before the review
of the Strategy objectives for nitrogen dioxide and for the protection
of ecosystems, which is planned for later in 2002.
32. Many local authorities required to assess air
quality in their areas lack the necessary expertise within their
environmental departments. It is unrealistic to expect small local
authorities in particular to be able to carry out the complex
economic and scientific analyses required. The Department should
consider increasing assistance to local authorities, for example
through establishing a designated centre of excellence to which
they could refer for advice, and which might share knowledge and
experience across local authorities carrying out essentially similar
33. The Department should develop the work of its
Interdepartmental Group to include: monitoring of proposed policy
changes by other departments potentially affecting air quality,
to ensure that it is consulted about such proposals while they
are still at an early stage of development, and so that it can
provide timely advice on the likely impact on air quality; and
pollution issues dealt with by other Units within the Department
such as climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions.