Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) has issued an improvement report to the Scottish Government following its investigation into compliance with air quality limit values.

The report, published on 29 September 2022, sets out evidence of a continued failure in some areas of Scotland to meet statutory limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The report also identifies weaknesses in the current operational and governance arrangements to improve local air quality and ensure future compliance with NO2 limit values.

In response to the report, the Scottish Government must prepare an improvement plan setting out how it intends to implement the recommendations in the report and present this to the Scottish Parliament for approval.

Key findings within the ESS report include:

  • Air quality management areas (AQMAs) exist to focus efforts on improving air quality. In some areas, they have been in place for years;
  • A number of local authority Air Quality Action Plans have not been reviewed for significant periods of time or have been published years after the declaration of the AQMA to which they relate;
  • Concern that the local air quality management framework is not robust enough to provide a comprehensive picture of local air quality, particularly in and around our cities;
  • Despite long term non-compliance with NO2 limit values, existing powers to direct local authorities to take action have not been used;
  • The system of governance and oversight of air quality in Scotland is overly complex and opaque.

Mark Roberts, Chief Executive of ESS, said:

“Despite efforts to improve air quality, there are still areas of non-compliance with respect to nitrogen dioxide, and these are anticipated to continue in the future. Given the length of time which has passed since compliance should have been achieved, and the serious impacts poor air quality can have on public health, we have decided to issue this improvement report.

If the Scottish Government decides to keep pace with European Union plans to reduce limits for nitrogen dioxide further, we do not consider that the existing system will be capable of meeting these revised limits effectively and in the shortest time possible.”

You can read the full report, findings and recommendations here.