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Air Pollution

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what estimate he has made of levels of (a) PM10, (b) PM2.5, (c) O3, (d) NO2 and (e) NO in each of the 20 largest cities and towns in England by population size for each year between 2005 and 2012; and if he will make a statement; (249760)

(2) which cities and towns in England are currently in breach of air quality laws on (a) nitrogen dioxide, (b) ozone and (c) other nitrogen oxides; and if he will make a statement;

(3) if he will place in the Library a copy of maps of the following air pollutants for each of the 20 largest cities and towns in England by population site showing the latest estimate he has for levels of (a) PM10, (b) PM2.5, (c) nitrogen dioxide, (d) ozone and (e) nitrogen oxide.

For the purposes of assessing and reporting exceedences and breaches of air quality limit values, the UK is divided up into 43 agglomeration zones (areas with a contiguous population of over 250,000 as specified by the air quality directives) and non-agglomeration zones. There are 23 agglomeration zones in England and eight non-agglomeration zones; the latter are based on Government office regions in England.

The air quality framework directive (1996/62/EC) and four daughter directives (1999/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC, and 2004/107/EC) set out our current obligations in relation to various pollutants in ambient air. Of the pollutants mentioned, the limit values currently in force are for particles measured as particulate matter (PM10). There are also limit values for the protection of vegetation and ecosystems for nitrogen oxides (NOx), but these specifically do not apply to urban areas, or to areas near busy roads.

The limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) do not come into force until 2010. The levels set for ozone (O3) are in the form of either target values, which do not have the same strict compliance criteria as limit values, or long term objectives, which have no compliance date. Other than those for the protection of vegetation and ecosystems, there are no additional limit values for other oxides of nitrogen. A new Council directive on ambient air and cleaner air for Europe (2008/50/EC) consolidates existing legislation and introduces new controls for PM2.5. The limit values for this pollutant are not yet in force.

Under the EU legislation set out above, the UK is required to monitor the air continuously for levels of PM10, PM2.5, N02, NOx (from which levels of NO can be derived), O3 and a number of other pollutants. These data are freely available from the National Air Quality Archive

This archive contains all the monitoring data collected for and by the Government in relation to air quality since 1962. It also contains details of the monitoring sites currently in use. In addition, the UK was one of a small number of member states to report modelled data alongside monitoring data. The national model used complies with the relevant data quality criteria set out in the various air quality directives, and is validated against monitored data. The annual report complied to accompany the UK submission to the European Commission on air quality is also held on the air quality archive: _dd12006mapsrep_v2.pdf

This contains maps of roadside and background levels of PM10, and NO2/NOx, although these are not given on a city by city basis; such information is not readily available. Maps for O3 are held in a separate report on the same site: _DD3_mapsrep2006_v2.pdf.

These reports also contain a map showing the location and extent of the UK agglomeration and non-agglomeration zones.

The model used to produce these reports is also used to provide projections of future air quality. This is a complex process and is generally only carried out in response to specific policy needs. In predicting future air quality, a "baseline" is constructed to show what effect currently planned measures and policies will have on air quality. Such a baseline has been prepared for 2010, 2011 and 2012 for PM10 and NO2, to support potential applications for time extensions for these pollutants, allowed under the 2008 directive, for compliance with the limit values. A consultation on the application for PM10 will be published shortly; it is planned to initiate a consultation on the application for NO2 towards the end of 2009. One of the outputs from this baseline is an assessment of the agglomeration and non-agglomeration zones predicted to contain locations where the air quality is above the relevant limit value level.

For NO2, the limit value is predicted to be exceeded in all but three zones in England in 2010, all but four in 2011 and all but five in 2012. The zones in compliance are predicted to be Brighton/Worthing/Littlehampton, Blackpool Urban Area, and Preston Urban Area in 2010, additionally Bournemouth Urban Area in 2011, and additionally Coventry/Bedworth in 2012.

The outcome of the baseline assessment for PM10 was that two zones—Greater London and the West Midlands were predicted to be in exceedence in 2010, reducing to one (Greater London) in 2011 and 2012. The extent of the predicted exceedence in 2011 was a total 40km of roads, mainly in central London. However, the baseline assessment had not taken into account all of the traffic and transport measures planned for implementation by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. Nor did the assessment use the more accurate traffic growth projections prepared by Transport for London for the London area, relying instead on national data. Sensitivity analysis including these measures reduced the total road length exceeding to around 6km, which is well within the uncertainties of the model. Using this additional analysis, there is no exceedence predicted for 2012.