Until 21 April 2023, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (“DEFRA”) is consulting on its draft revised national air quality strategy (“AQS”). The AQS provides a framework to enable English local authorities, the Environment Agency (“EA”) and other designated public authorities to support the achievement of the government’s long-term air quality goals, including those relating to PM2.5. It sets out their powers, responsibilities and other actions the government expects them to take.
DEFRA’s consultation targets three aspects of the draft revised AQS: air quality reporting zones, the powers made available to local authorities, and the implementation of the PM2.5 target. The consultation lasts only 11 days, 9 working days after a period of public national holidays. The opportunity for full and meaningful consultation in this time period is questionable.
The draft revised AQS includes a proposal to align air quality reporting zones with local government boundaries. It is hoped that this will empower local councils and increase transparency and accountability, by making it easier for local authorities to identify their role in addressing areas of non-compliance. Stakeholders are given the chance to express views on this commitment.
In the section of the draft revised AQS titled “Summary of powers available to local authorities”, DEFRA lays out the range of powers already available to local authorities and further action which the government intends to take. These further actions are not within the scope of the consultation. The consultation instead invites views on what more local authorities can do to:
- reduce pollution from inappropriate domestic burning;
- reduce pollution from industrial sources they are responsible for;
- reduce pollution from transport and non-road mobile machinery;
- reduce pollution from agriculture;
- improve indoor air quality; and
- effectively communicate air quality information.
DEFRA also invites views on whether additional powers relating to air quality should be made available to local authorities and what further support could central government provide to help local action to improve air quality.
The draft revised AQS also considers the implementation of the two targets to reduce concentrations of PM2.5 (being an annual mean concentration target for PM2.5 of 10 μg/m3 across England by 2040 and an average population exposure reduction target of 35% in 2040 compared to a 2018 baseline). In that section, DEFRA commits to consulting further on the detail of planning reforms which promote a “design-stage emission prevention” approach, which involves influencing the design of a development at an early stage, so that the minimum amount of pollution is emitted over time. The consultation specifically asks whether consultees agree or disagree that a new approach is needed to promote consideration of PM2.5 targets in the planning system, and for their views on the proposed design-stage emission prevention approach.
DEFRA has confirmed that they will use the responses to this consultation exercise to help inform the final AQS to be published later in 2023, though no specific date or month for publication is given.
Consultees have been given just 9 working days to respond to the draft revised AQS after the Easter holidays when many stakeholders will still be away.
What stakeholders can do within that time, unless previously significantly consulted, is limited but those able to should respond to the consultation this week. If only to say that there is limited opportunity to meaningfully respond.
Much of the draft revised AQS’s content is omitted from the consultation exercise. Most of the questions in the consultation ask for general views on what local authorities can do to reduce pollution and improve air quality, rather than for views on DEFRA’s substantive proposals. Many of the proposals are vague and consist of commitments to consider further changes.
Article co-authored by Sofia Sotgia, Trainee Solicitor at CMS.