Policy Option 12 - Air Quality

  1. Clean air is essential to the health and wellbeing of Oxfordshire's communities and the natural environment. Air pollutants can have direct effects on human health, habitats and biodiversity and climate change. The Oxfordshire Plan aims to help to:
  • prevent new and existing development from contributing to air pollution;
  • prevent new and existing development from being affected by unacceptable levels of air pollution; and
  • ensure that new development seeks to improve air quality wherever possible.


  1. Public Health England advises that 'there is no evidence of a threshold for health effects' from air pollution and that local authorities should 'seek to lower population-level exposure and reduce everyone's exposure to air pollution, as well as targeting 'hotspots'', to maximise health benefits. 


  1. There are currently 13 designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in Oxfordshire. These are areas where nitrogen dioxide levels exceed national air quality objectives. Each AQMA has an Air Quality Action Plan which sets out how air quality will be improved.


  1. Whilst air quality is a particular concern where development is proposed within an AQMA or where it might affect an AQMA, there are other parts of Oxfordshire that suffer from poor air quality, or which have the potential to be affected by poor air quality that also need to be considered. This includes habitats of national or international importance that are particularly sensitive to changes in air quality. It is important that all of Oxfordshire benefits from clean air.


  1. An Air Quality Impact Assessment (AQIA) will be undertaken to inform the production of the Oxfordshire Plan. This will include an assessment of how different growth scenarios might affect air quality and in turn how this may affect human health and natural habitats. The AQIA will help to inform where growth is proposed in Oxfordshire and the infrastructure proposed to mitigate and support it. It will also help shape policies in the Oxfordshire Plan. The AQIA will be published at the next stage of consultation (Regulation 19).


Policy Options


  1. One option is to not have a strategic policy on air quality in the Oxfordshire Plan and to instead leave it to local plans to set policies on air quality. However, the protection and enhancement of air quality is a strategic cross-boundary planning matter and it is considered appropriate to include a county-wide air quality policy in the Oxfordshire Plan.


  1. If it were left to local plans to set policies on air quality, there is a risk that local plans might take different approaches to air quality. This could result in less certainty and clarity for developers and communities. It may also make it more difficult to meet proposed ambitions around the delivery of transformational change, environmental improvement and creating strong and healthy communities.

Preferred Policy Option


  1. The preferred approach is for the Oxfordshire Plan to provide a strategic planning framework for the protection and enhancement of air quality. This framework would set minimum standards for development in Oxfordshire, helping to ensure a consistent approach across the county. It would also provide a framework for improving air quality wherever possible, aligning with proposed ambitions around environmental improvement and creating strong and healthy communities. Local plans could provide further detail as appropriate.


Policy Option 12: Air Quality

The Oxfordshire Plan would support the protection and enhancement of air quality. Development would be expected to take account of:

It's impact on air quality; and

Any potential impacts of poor air quality on future occupiers/users.

Development proposals in or affecting an Air Quality Management Area would be expected to be consistent with the relevant local Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP).

Major development proposals would be expected to be accompanied by an air quality assessment. Guidance would be produced to set out what information this should include. Guidance could be produced at a county-wide or local level.

Development would be expected to improve air quality wherever possible. For example, by:

a) supporting walking, cycling and public transport and reducing the need to travel;

b) supporting the uptake of zero and low emission vehicles;

c) avoiding the creation of street canyons which trap traffic pollution;

d) minimising human exposure to traffic pollution through the careful design of streets, outdoor spaces and buildings;

e) reducing emissions from buildings and other non-transport sources; and

f) providing appropriate green infrastructure.

Where it is identified that development would have a negative impact on air quality, and/or that air quality would have a negative impact on the future occupiers/users of development, a hierarchical approach to mitigation would be required:

Avoid – Consider measures to avoid negative impacts, particularly if sensitive uses or habitats are affected.

Reduce
– Where it is not possible to avoid negative impacts, consider measures to reduce negative impacts. For example, through traffic and travel management, careful design and green infrastructure provision.

Offset – Where it is not possible to reduce negative impacts to an acceptable level, consider compensatory measures which take a broader view of the human health and habitat impacts within and outside the development area. This could include supporting measures in an Air Quality Action Plan or low emissions strategy where applicable.

Where possible, the Oxfordshire Plan would identify strategic opportunities to address the main sources of air pollution in Oxfordshire. This would be informed by evidence (including the AQIA). It should be noted that these opportunities might be more appropriately highlighted within other policies (for example policies within Theme Four: Planning for sustainable travel and connectivity). All policies in the Oxfordshire Plan would be aligned with the ambition of improving environmental quality, including improving air quality. 

Alternative Policy Option 12-01


  1. Include a strategic air quality policy in the Oxfordshire Plan but reduce the scope of this policy. For example: do not require air quality assessments for major development proposals.


  1. This is not a preferred option as there is a risk that local plans might take different approaches to air quality. This could result in less certainty and clarity for developers and communities. It may also make it more difficult to meet proposed ambitions around the delivery of transformational change, environmental improvement and creating strong and healthy communities.

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