Government response

Air quality and Highways Agency road schemes

Improving the strategic road network while meeting legal obligations that ensure good air quality.


We are delivering a significant programme of investment in improving the road network to tackle congestion and support the economy. This includes making smarter use of motorways by managing traffic to cut congestion as well as traditional bypasses and road widening schemes.

To date, we have started construction on 12 major schemes since 2010 and a further 5 are planned to start by April 2015, subject to statutory processes. This new capacity creates better connections, and supports job creation and economic growth up and down the country.

But we need to deliver this investment responsibly. Clean air is important for human health and the health of the environment. So, like some other European countries, we improve our strategic road network while still meeting our legal obligations that ensure we achieve good air quality for everyone.

This means we have to build flexibility into project timetables, and into the specification they are built to and operated at. It could result in a project with no air quality concerns starting earlier, or that a scheme is operated differently until air quality levels sufficiently improve. This is considered carefully on a scheme by scheme basis as part of the environmental assessments we carry out on all projects ahead of any work starting.

We have a toolkit of mitigation measures we can draw on such as taking steps to improve air quality in pollution hotspots beyond the immediate locality of the scheme. We can also make changes to the route of the new scheme or to the proximity of vehicles to adjacent properties along the existing route. Our toolkit also includes speed control.

Innovative thinking is important, so we will also be testing roadside air pollution barriers to see if they can help reduce pollution levels experienced at nearby properties.

We are working closely with local partners on schemes with air quality concerns to ensure as many benefits as possible can be delivered from the outset. We will implement any restrictions that are necessary for as short a time as possible as part of a phased approach.

We will also work wider with local authorities to find solutions that seek to address the transport problem and also provide any mitigation needed to prevent significant air quality impacts.

Our overall goal, working with local partners and central Government, is to invest in the strategic road network whilst mitigating for significant environmental impacts.


Footnote: In order to clarify the Highways Agency’s position on the pilot of the roadside air pollution barriers (referenced above), the words “along the M60 in Manchester” were removed on 03 March 2014.

Published 12 December 2013