Public Health: Role for Local Authorities

Role for Local Authorities:  Local authorities in the UK have a responsibility under Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) legislation to review air quality.  Where concentrations exceed national objectives, measures should be put in place to reduce emissions, and be reported in the local Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP). Most such Action Plans are designed to address difficulties in complying with national objectives for either NO2 or PM10.

The Public Health Outcomes Framework indicator, which focuses on PM2.5, encourages the co-operation of multiple local authority departments which can all contribute to the delivery of air quality improvements. The Defra and Public Health England Briefing for Directors of Public Health (Air Pollution) toolkit offers tools to help ensure air quality is prioritised alongside other public health priorities to ensure it is on the local agenda.  Engagement with various stakeholders, including other members within the local authority, those in the local health sector and the wider community is foremost in ensuring air quality issues are tackled appropriately.

In order to specify relevant measures to reduce emissions, local authorities can use tools to appraise the scale of the air pollution issue in its area. The Defra and Public Health England Briefing for Directors of Public Health (Air Pollution) toolkit provides a methodology for ranking the local mortality attributed to air pollution against local mortality due to other sources. By assessing the location, extent and source of local problems action planning can be implemented strategically.

Typical measures to reduce emissions from local sources include traffic management, the encouragement of uptake of cleaner vehicles, and increased use of public transport along with more sustainable transport methods such as walking and cycling.  Such measures will also reduce emissions of PM2.5

The use of smokeless fuels for industrial and domestic combustion is also important as are stringent industrial emission controls. The increased use of biomass as a fuel to meet renewable energy targets may give rise to increased particulate pollution if combustion plants are not well managed. Planning and development controls are also important for local authorities to reduce concentrations in local polluted hotspots.

Any improvements in air quality will have a positive health consequence and in turn can support other local priorities such as health inequalities, care integration and growth and regeneration. 

Local authorities can help address health impacts and improve air quality in a number of ways, including:

  • Encouraging schemes like ECOSTARS that recognise excellent levels of environmental and energy saving performance for the vehicles that operate within their area.
  • Introducing intelligent transport systems that maximise the efficiency of the highway network and also give real time information on traffic delays and journey times, car parking availability, and bus arrival times; together, these allow people to make better informed travel choices and also reduce traffic emissions. See example (PDF, 54.3KB, 10 pages).  
  • Incorporating air quality into planning considerations for new developments and refurbishments. See example (PDF, 410KB, 37 pages).
  • Promoting active travel, energy efficiency and sustainable transport to residents and businesses in the borough and putting in the necessary infrastructure to enable people to reduce the emissions they produce. 
  • Localism and community engagement to involve local communities and neighbourhood groups in the decision-making process will widen the understanding of air quality issues associated with public health. 

Defra has produced guidance to assist local authorities to develop Air Quality Action Plans which set out measures to reduce local emissions. 

Further Information 

UK Compliance Study Action Plans 

Air Pollution in the UK 2011