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Decision details

Air Quality Strategy

Decision Maker: Executive Councillor for Climate Action and Environment

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: Yes

Is subject to call in?: No


To approve a new Air Quality Strategy.


The Executive Councillor for Climate Action and the Environment joined the committee via MS Teams so decisions for her portfolio were taken by the Leader of the Council.


Public Question

A member of the public asked a question as set out below by written statement and asked for response to be included in the minutes.


                i."Back in Feb 2017 I asked Cambridge City Council air quality in Cambridge. See https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=116&MId=3053 item 17/4/CNL and also the video I filmed of the Q&A at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMlaM9pw6iA

               ii.Please could the council provide an update on any progress it had made regarding improving air quality - in particular whether Parliament had granted local councils at district/borough level any additional powers and/or duties. Furthermore could the council state whether any powers/duties have been transferred to other tiers of the state - for example the county council or combined authority.


The Environmental Quality & Growth Manager responded:

      i.          Since 2017 we have had no exceedances of the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10).  In 2017 we had one exceedance of the NO2 annual mean AQO.

     ii.          Following 2020 and 2021, where Covid severely restricted vehicle movements in the city, we saw an increase in concentrations on NO2 and PM10 at monitoring locations in the City in 2022.  We were continuing to monitor concentrations during 2023 to see whether this upward trend continues or whether we have reached a stable level of concentrations. 

   iii.          In 2021 the Environment Act 1995 was amended.  The amendment of this act had brought in changes to existing legislation and new legislation.  The main changes were:

a.    Updates to the Smoke Control Area Regulations:

The reason these regulations have been updated was to reflect the concern around concentrations of PM2.5 in the atmosphere, where various studies have confirmed that there was no safe level for human health. Domestic solid fuel burning had been found to be a contributory source of primary PM2.5 emissions in urban areas.  The new Smoke Control Regulations allow local authorities to issue civil penalties to any premises if they were emitting smoke within a smoke control area.  The regulations also allow local authorities to include moored vessels in their smoke control areas following a period of consultation.

b.    New Environmental Target Regulations 2023:

These regulations set an annual mean target level for PM2.5 and an emissions reduction target level for PM2.5.  All local authorities were expected to work towards meeting these target levels.  This was a requirement of the Environment Act 2021.

c.    Updates to the Local Air Quality Management Policy Guidance (PG22). 

o   Local Authorities to take a preventative approach to air quality rather than waiting for exceedances to occur, if no AQMA, local Authorities should have an Air Quality Strategy in place to improve air quality.

o   Greater collaboration between air quality partners, especially Public Health and regional partners.  Partners should put forward actions for the AQAP including expected timescales for completion.   National Highways had now been designated as an Air Quality Partner.

o   Improvement to public access to air quality information / community engagement.

o   Consideration of heath inequalities and poor air quality.

o   Reminders for submission of Annual Status Report (ASR’s) by 30th June each year and proposing to withhold air quality grant funding for missing deadlines.

o   Consider boundaries of Smoke Control Areas in the District.

o   Linkages between air quality and climate change policies working together for shared improvements.

d.    National Air Quality Strategy 2023:

o   Strategy Document from Defra which sets out the requirements for local authorities to take to improve air quality. 

o   Under Local Air Quality Management Regulations, District Authorities or Unitary Authorities still have responsibility for air quality in their areas.  No powers or responsibilities for air quality have been transferred to Cambridgeshire County Council or the Combined Authority.  However, the Local Air Quality Management Regulation Policy Guidance sets responsibilities for partner organisations such as County Councils and bodies such as the Combined Authority to work with District Authorities to improve air quality.  If there were any disputes as to whether partner organisations were fulfilling their requirements under LAQM this would be decided by the relevant Secretary of State.

e.    Taxis and EV Infrastructure:

o   As of June 2023 we have 55 EV and 65 petrol hybrid out of a fleet of 452.

o   We have provided 17 rapid charge points with taxi dedicated access and a discounted tariff for registered taxi drivers.

o   We have provided 38x7kw and 4x50kw rapid on street chargers in residential areas, and a significant further deployment of over 70x7kw chargers in city council surface and multistorey car parks was underway.


Matter for Decision

Cambridge City Council was required to adopt an Air Quality Strategy and officers sought a decision on two key elements of the scope prior to bringing a final strategy to Environment and Community Scrutiny committee.

                i.          Investigate the opportunity for a joint strategy with South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC).

               ii.          The adoption World Health Organisation (WHO) Targets.


Whilst the option existed to do a standalone Cambridge City Air Quality Strategy, given the transboundary nature of air pollution, the scale of development and population increase coming forward in the next 20 years through the emerging Greater Cambridge Local plan and the operation of a joint planning service; it seemed appropriate to align the strategy with the new local plan. A joint strategy with SCDC would enable an integrated approach to minimising emissions and maximise benefits to public health.


It was widely accepted that there was no safe level of air pollution. Cambridge currently exceeded WHO guideline levels.


The Strategy would be delivered in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, Public Health, South Cambridgeshire District council, Greater Cambridge Planning Service and Greater Cambridge Partnership.


Decision of Leader of the Council

      i.          Approved the adoption of World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines as the air quality standard to work towards across Cambridge.

     ii.          Approved the progress of a joint Greater Cambridge Air Quality Strategy with South Cambridgeshire District Council with the finalised Strategy coming before committee in March 2024.

   iii.          Approved the progress of a Cambridge City Air quality strategy should South Cambridgeshire District Council not wish to pursue a joint strategy, or the delivery times becomes too long.


Reason for the Decision

As set out in the Officer’s report.


Any Alternative Options Considered and Rejected

Not applicable.


Scrutiny Considerations

The Committee received a report from the Environmental Quality & Growth Manager.


Opposition Councillors made the following comments in response to the report:

      i.          NO2 emissions were mainly caused by traffic, but levels from heating homes and businesses had also risen.

     ii.          The role of tree canopy/plants in cleaning the air was missing from the Officer report.

   iii.          Referred to paragraph 3.1.1 in the Officer’s report. Local authorities were required to monitor key pollutants across their district under the Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework. Research from Centre for Cities suggested the City Council was not performing well.

   iv.          There was a lot of development in the city. Planning conditions were in place to protect bats, but how to protect school children next to the Owlstone Croft development site when dust was created during construction work? There were no comments from Planners so School Governors had to. Queried how to train Planners about air pollution to pick up issues at the start of the process? Suggested there was a need to strengthen policies in the next Local Plan.


The Environmental Quality & Growth Manager said the following in response to Members’ questions:

      i.          Interim air quality targets were being developed to cover the city and wider area around it. These would apply until WHO ones were brought in.

     ii.          Progress was being made on the electric vehicle charging situation such as a network of charging points for taxis. The City Council was working with the County Council to install general use street chargers, around seventy would be installed in car parks.

   iii.          An action plan would be developed alongside the Carbon Strategy to list practical measures the City Council and partners could take to improve air quality.


The Executive Councillor said city and rural emissions would be measured through a joint strategy to try and meet ambitious targets with South Cambs District Council. The intention was to reduce the amount of emissions and pollutants in the air, not rely on the trees to clean it.


   iv.          The City Council had not undertaken an exceedance measure since 2017, so it was legally compliant. This did not affect the Centre for Cities rank of 56th. The City Council had been unable to substantiate why the rank was given as Centre for Cities had not provided their source data.

    v.          It was important that the Carbon Strategy had a bearing on planning applications. The Environmental Services Team were consulted on planning applications. There was no way to damp down dust on a building site, prohibiting development if dust occurred would place an unreasonable condition on developers so building work could not go ahead. Developers were expected to adhere to Environmental Service conditions when these were imposed.


The Committee unanimously resolved to endorse the recommendations.


The Leader approved the recommendations on behalf of the Executive Councillor.


Conflicts of Interest Declared by the Executive Councillor (and any Dispensations Granted)

No conflicts of interest were declared by the Executive Councillor.


Publication date: 25/01/2024

Date of decision: 05/10/2023