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Health based air quality standards have been set both at a domestic and EU level on a range of air pollutants, including particulate matter. Action to improve air quality is underway across Government at national, international and local levels.
The introduction of the "Euro" series of progressively tighter emission standards has been underway since 1992, and has drastically lowered the permitted limits for particulate matter emission from new diesel vehicles. This has been complemented by improvements in product standards for petrol and diesel, which have lowered the permitted amounts of certain pollutant-forming substances in these fuels. Further "Euro" vehicle emission standards, with even tighter emission limits for particles, are due to be introduced between now and 2014. This is supported by other Government action, including the promotion of cleaner, less polluting fuel and vehicle technologies.
Local authorities are also taking forward their duty to review and assess air quality in their areas against objectives for a range of pollutants. If there is a likely chance of failure in meeting any of these objectives, an authority is required to declare an Air Quality Management Area and take forward action plans within its remit to address the problem. Such action is progressed in coordination with other agencies, including the Highways Agency and Environment Agency.
The content of action plans varies from one authority to another, and depends upon the sources of the pollutants of concern. However, common elements where emissions from roads are a particular problem include:
(i) A commitment to working closely with the Highways Agency on possible emissions reduction measures where trunk roads are major local sources of pollutants;
(ii) Local traffic management measures to limit access to, or re-route traffic away from, problem areas. Low emission zones are a possible solution that some authorities have been looking at in this context;
(iii) Commitment to developing green travel plans and/or to using cleaner-fuelled vehicles in the authority's own fleet;
(iv) A strategy for informing members of the public about air quality issues, via local newsletters or other media;
(v) Quality partnerships with bus or fleet operators to deliver cleaner, quieter vehicles in return for the provision of better bus lanes or more flexible delivery arrangements; and
(vi) local walking and cycling strategies.