Understanding the 2019 clean air strategy.

Chris Rush

Chris Rush, Associate, Air Quality Lead

The positives, negatives, and likely outcomes for our industry.

Monday saw the release of the long-awaited – and contested – UK Clean Air Strategy. It comes after rounds of public consultation, and sets out the action that’s required from all parts of government and society to actively improve air quality.

Historically, governmental strategy has focused on large scale sources of pollution. So, it’s encouraging to see that this document has a greater focus on the relative contribution of smaller and more diffuse sources of air pollution. However, it’s also frustrating to see it lacking in certain areas.

What are the positives?

It’s good to see reference to small particulate matter pollutant PM2.5 and the ambition to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline limit on this pollutant. It also focuses on sources that previously had limited attention e.g. agricultural sites, domestic heating (open fires/wood burners) all of which contribute to an individual’s personal exposure. A further positive is the number of mentions of clean energy support and the continued reference to ensuring that both climate change and air quality are considered more closely in the future.

A real positive is the focus on indoor air quality, which is something we at Hoare Lea feel has been a long time coming.

…And the negatives?

The strategy doesn’t provide a lot of new detail on areas that play a big part in poor air quality, i.e. transport emissions. This is a missed opportunity. Specifically, I also would have liked to have seen more detail regarding the actions that need to be undertaken in this area, including timescales.

What happens now?

The strategy will be underpinned by new England-wide powers to control major sources of air pollution, in line with the risk they pose to public health and the environment. This will be combined with new local powers to take action in areas with an air pollution problem.

The strategy will support the creation of Clean Air Zones to lower emissions from all sources of air pollution, backed up with clear enforcement mechanisms.

Highlighted here are a couple of the impacts I believe the strategy will have on our industry:

1. Meeting WHO guidelines on particulate matter.

The new target set out in the strategy is to reduce people’s exposure to PM2.5 to meet the WHO annual mean guideline limit of 10 μg/m3. Apparently, the Government is planning to publish evidence early this year to examine what action would be needed to meet this limit; this could mean increased focus on filtration requirements to treat external air and reduce the concentration of PM2.5 may be required in buildings that previously wouldn’t have needed it.

2. Indoor air quality.

Indoor pollutants referenced in the strategy include PM2.5 and sulphur dioxide (SO2) from open fires and wood burners. Also referenced are non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), which come from a wide variety of chemicals found in carpets, upholstery, paint, cleaning products, fragrances and personal care products. To help reduce the harmful build-up of indoor air pollutants, the strategy says a consultation will take place around changes to Building Regulations for indoor ventilation. Areas that were previously not monitored or enforced therefore may see stricter requirements up front, supported by compliance monitoring and ongoing enforcement. Ultimately, it’s anticipated that greater consideration will be given up front and throughout the design process to bring along the delivery of improved indoor air quality, supported by ongoing compliance monitoring.

This strategy will hopefully progress new legislation, creating a stronger and more coherent framework for tackling air pollution.