Press release

Consultation on air quality plans to meet nitrogen dioxide limits launched

These plans will form the basis of the UK notification to the European Commission for additional time to comply with the NO2 limit values.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A consultation on a package of updated draft air quality plans that aim to meet the EU limit values for Nitrogen Dioxide NO2 in England has been launched today.

These plans will form the basis of the UK notification to the European Commission for additional time to comply with the NO2 limit values.

Government has been working with regional and local authorities on ways to meet the EU limits. The published draft plans set out current and planned actions to meet the NO2 limit values in 40 of the UK’s 43 air quality zones where our assessment shows that we exceed one or more of those values. The plans show that improvements have been made, with emission of oxides of nitrogen down by 39% between 2000 and 2009, and that 95% of UK roads assessed are currently expected to meet the NO2 limits by 2015.

Most countries across the EU face a challenge in meeting the NO2 limits in big towns and cities. More new and cleaner vehicles are expected to bring further air quality benefits and the draft plans set out work underway to explore how to accelerate these benefits. The facilitation of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) is being considered but this is not included in the consultation as work assessing their effectiveness and feasibility is still ongoing.

Defra is inviting comments on the plans for England over the next eight weeks, particularly the extent to which they correctly represent the efforts underway at national, regional and local level. There will be separate consultations by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK notification will set out the list of UK-wide measures that have reduced or are expected to reduce overall NO2 levels and will be sent to the European Commission in September. The plans for England, along with those from the devolved administrations, will form the basis of this notification which will seek, for those parts of the country where there is sufficient evidence, to postpone for up to five years from January 2010 the compliance date for the NO2 limit values. This request is permitted under the air quality directive 2008/50/EC.

Details of additional action in London to reduce particulate matter (PM10) have also been finalised today and will be sent to the European Commission. These actions are being taken by the Mayor of London, supported by £5 million of funding from Government.

Notes to editors

The EU air quality Directive 2008/50/EC sets concentration limits for particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and provides for postponement of the compliance deadlines for PM10 to June 2011 and for NO2 from 2010 to 2015, subject to submission of air quality plans setting out how the limits will be achieved.

European limits for PM10 are largely met across the country. Defra applied for an extension for London and in March 2011 The European Commission granted the extension, subject to taking localised or short term actions to reduce the risk of exceedences in 2011, and updating the London air quality plan for PM10 by 11 June. This update is now available via the Defra website at:

For the purposes of air quality assessment the UK is split into 43 zones and small parts of 40 of these zones exceeded the NO2 limit values in 2010 so updated draft air quality plans for these 40 zones have been prepared. This consultation invites comments on the package of plans for England and supporting documentation that will be sent to the Commission by 30 September. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are conducting parallel consultations.

The most important air pollutant in terms of quantified health effects is PM10 - and the World Health Organisation advises there is no safe level of exposure. The health evidence around the long term effects of NO2 is inconclusive as it is difficult to extricate the effects of long term exposure from those of fine particles like PM10. Short term effects of NO2 are well established - at higher concentrations it can cause irritation to the lining of the lungs and can exacerbate respiratory conditions.

The consultation is open for eight weeks and the documents can be found at

Updates to this page

Published 9 June 2011