MINISTERS have been told to improve compliance with air quality limits after a report revealed “continued failure” from the Scottish Government.

An investigation by Environment Standards Scotland (ESS), which ensures public authorities are compliant with environmental law, found the Scottish Government has not met some targets on the statutory limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The poor air quality caused by NO2 and tiny particles (PM10s) emitted by vehicle exhausts and other industrial activities is recognised as being the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.

Air pollution has been linked to increased risk of serious health conditions such as asthma, heart attacks and strokes and kills an estimated 2500 people in Scotland every year.

Scotland has committed to the European Ambient Air Quality Directive, which sets a safe limit for harmful pollutants.

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For NO2, anything beyond 40 micrograms per cubic meter is considered unsafe and for PM10s it is 18 micrograms per cubic meter.

However, in 2021 Hope Street in Glasgow recorded an annual mean NO2 reading of 45.411.

Other busy streets in Scotland – such as Salamander Street in Edinburgh – also experienced increases after recording record lows in 2020.

The report also highlighted concern that the local air quality management framework is not robust enough to provide a comprehensive picture of local air quality, particularly around Scottish cities.

And despite long term non-compliance with NO2 limit values, existing powers to direct local authorities to take action has not been used.

The report noted the current operational and governance arrangements to improve local air quality are “overly complex and opaque”.

The existing system in Scotland will be incapable of meeting future targets if changes are not made, experts have said.

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The Scottish Government has been told to prepare an improvement plan setting out how it intends to implement the recommendations in the report.

Mark Roberts, chief executive of ESS, said: “Despite efforts to improve air quality, there are still areas of non-compliance with respect to nitrogen dioxide, and these are anticipated to continue in the future.

“Given the length of time which has passed since compliance should have been achieved, and the serious impacts poor air quality can have on public health, we have decided to issue this improvement report.

“If the Scottish Government decides to keep pace with European Union plans to reduce limits for nitrogen dioxide further, we do not consider that the existing system will be capable of meeting these revised limits effectively and in the shortest time possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome Environmental Standards Scotland’s report and look forward to considering their recommendations.

“Scotland already enjoys good air quality in comparison to the rest of the UK. We are committed to further improving air quality and delivering our vision for Scotland to have the cleanest air in Europe.”