Scottish councils failing on air pollution report finds

Not enough is being done to tackle air pollution across Scotland, a new report by an independent air quality watchdog has revealed.

Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS), which assesses the effectiveness of environmental law, investigated after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) judged that the UK was breaching limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The ESS found that councils were failing to comply with statutory limits for NO2, with plans to reach air quality targets lacking detail.

It also highlighted how powers held by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to direct local authorities to act on air quality weren’t being used enough.

brown brick building under blue sky during daytime

‘ESS concludes that significant weaknesses remain in the systems to improve air quality with respect to NO2,’ the report reads.

‘Despite the efforts made to improve air quality, areas of non-compliance with respect to NO2 have remained and are anticipated to remain going into the future.

‘Such outcomes are, in ESS’ view, no longer tenable given the significant length of time which has passed since compliance should have been achieved, and the serious impacts poor air quality has on public health.’

The body is now recommending local authorities publish air quality action plans within a specified time after an air quality management area has been declared, achieve objectives within a specific time period, and regularly review and update plans.

It also suggested the Scottish government introduce a monitoring body and revise its air quality strategy to include specific timescales to achieve compliance.

Gavin Thomson, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: ‘We have seen very little action to address the huge damage to public health caused by air pollution. The four Low Emission Zones in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen will be completed in 2024, a full 14 years after Scotland first breached legal limits for diesel pollution.

‘There are huge gaps in policy and governance that this report from ESS has identified. The report explains that dangerous air pollution problems persist in areas outside our biggest cities. Suburban towns such as Blantyre and Johnstone are highlighted as having recently breached legal limits, so Low Emission Zones in our biggest cities can’t solve the problem.

‘We need action from the Government and councils to limit car use, bring buses back into public ownership to restore lost routes, and make it much easier and safer to walk and cycle.’

Photo by Dav Doh


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Peter Murtagh
Peter Murtagh
1 year ago

No surprise there. The Cleaner Air for Scotland report was published in 2015 ; then republished largely unchanged in 2021 as CAFS2. Since then there has been the COP summit, in Glasgow, and the new Environment Act south of the border. But not in Scotland .Instead, six working groups were formed to advise on a customized Scottish Environment Act ; their minutes are publically available here – Note that the committee on domestic emissions has 21 members ; 2 civil servants, 2 reps from local authorites, 3 from SEPA and 14 from the solid fuel and stove industries. No ecologists. Note too that in the Progress Report to the Scottish Parliament, June 2022, a research project on non transport emissions has been set up since April 2022, to gather evidence to inform Scottish Govt policy and actions . The research group is set to report back – in 2026 ! I wonder if they will use smoke signals like the Vatican to keep us up to date with decisions ? It’s hardly a surpise that local authorities don’t bother to enforce even the existing legislation .

Anne Garvey
Anne Garvey
1 year ago

The sad fact is that whichever regional authority is in power and however large the devolution of powers, if they are ignored , shelved or half used citizens will suffer. We do hear from Nichola Sturgeon and the advantages of independence but if you’re still breathing polluted and damaging air particles the damage especially to children is as long lasting as it would be under a Westminster administration. Pollutants are respecters of national boundaries. Get those powers in place wherever they originate!

1 year ago

Do we know how N. Ireland and Wales compare?

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