In order to protect human health and the environment, the Council of the European Union drew up a directive with air quality standards in April 1999. With the Environment Act 1995 Part IV the Federal Government transposed the EU directive into national legislation. Under this directive local authorities are required to review air quality in their area. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for ensuring that EU air quality limits are met. The government sets out air quality standards and objectives in the UK Air Quality Strategy. In places where EU limits are exceeded, they have to assign Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA). Accordingly, the limit value for particulate matter was set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which may be exceeded on a maximum of 35 days a year. The average annual value for nitrogen dioxide was set at 40µg/m3.
Air Quality Action Plans
The EU directive obliges cities and municipalities to draw up action plans for air pollution control. An action plan shall include a statement of the time within which the local authority proposes to implement the measures comprised in the plan. A local authority can revise an action plan if necessary. In the UK, more than 700 hundred Air Quality Management Areas are declared for Nitrogen dioxide, Particulate Matter (PM10) or Sulphur dioxide (SO2).
Action plans contain different measures like Car Sharing, Congestion Charge, a broader public transport system or a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which ensure to meet the limits.
Low Emission Zones
There are two Low Emission Zones in the UK, in London and in Norwich. London’s LEZ was introduced in 2008 and restricts diesel engine vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, buses, coaches, large vans and minibuses. Vehicles must meet certain emission standards to drive into the LEZ without paying a daily charge. The LEZ applies to all vehicles, irrespective of whether they are used for commercial or private use. The LEZ covers most of Greater London and is marked by traffic signs. Compared to the central London Congestion Charging zone the LEZ is operating 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Cameras read the number plates of vehicles driving within the LEZ and check it against the database of registered vehicles. This database informs whether the vehicle meets the LEZ emission standards, is exempt or if the charge is already paid.
From 3 January 2012 Lorries, buses, coaches and heavy diesel vehicles have to meet the Euro IV for particulate matter (PM) if they want to drive in the LEZ. Larger vans, minibuses and other specialist diesel vehicles have to meet the Euro 3 standard. A small number of vehicles are entitled to an exemption from the LEZ. Under certain conditions it’s possible to get a discount from the daily charge. You will find more information on the website of Transport for London. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/lez/17678.aspx
The Norwich LEZ only restricts buses. From 1st January 2014 Oxford will implement a LEZ were all busses will have to meet the stringent Euro V standards for NOx.
However one or more of the EU limit values has been broken in the UK in every year since they came into effect in 2005.