Planning for clean air

How the planning system can help to improve air quality and the planning strategies that can achieve this were the topics under discussion at the WCRAQ Planning Working Party meeting in September. Isabella Stone reports.

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith OBE chaired the Planning Working Party meeting discussing existing planning strategies to tackle air quality, which featured a guest presentation from Ruth Calderwood, Air Quality Manager at the City of London Corporation.

Ruth outlined the details of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This covers issues such as preventing developments from contributing to unacceptable levels of air pollution. The Government is looking at objectives at a high level and allowing authorities to take the broad aims of NPPF so they can apply them at a local level. Ruth explained that clean air zones are then introduced to tackle air quality if the required levels are not met.

The London Plan 2021 focuses on air quality but considers whether a new development’s air quality footprint is the same or less than the previous development. Similarly, the City Plan’s goals also consider a development’s impact on the City’s NO2, PM10 or PM2.5 while ensuring all actions are air-quality neutral or positive.

The Air Quality Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), published in 2017, has four main aspects: building design, heating and energy, construction phase (encouraging developers to use low-emission technology and good site management) and air quality impact assessments. These are not statutory, but they enable developers to consider their impact on local air quality.

Other planning strategies include the Construction Code of Practice (CoP), which looks at site management. The City Corporation has also developed an Emission Reduction Bill that aims to control the sources of pollution, such as mobile and static combustion plants.

Ruth explained that the benefits of using a planning system for air quality management include systems being managed locally, which allows the City of London Corporation to ask more from local developers and provides for the introduction of other measures such as electric charging points and cycle parking that help to help improve air quality. The most significant benefit so far has been in the pre-application stage, where the City has been able to approach developers to outline what the SPD requires to influence projects before development begins.

However, there are limitations. Developers can pollute ‘up to the limit’ of the air quality standards and targets set by the Government, for example.

Also, potential conflicts between mechanical ventilation and indoor air quality arise from multiple plans. While computer modelling can underpin decision-making, it is dependent on the information that is put into the programme. Projects tend to be long-term, so short-term wins are more challenging.

Louise asked Ruth whether all London boroughs have specific SPDs in place. Ruth said it is not clear if all boroughs have specific SPDs, but all London boroughs have a clean air plan to follow.

Originally published in the FVI magazine