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A breath of fresh air – updated regulations aimed at improving air quality come into force

In January 2018, a raft of updated regulations in relation to the planning and environmental sector were introduced by way of statutory instrument. Within these amended regulations were the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2018 (the “Regulations”). The Regulations update the previous 2016 Environmental Permitting Regulations and were brought into force on 30 January 2018.

The key amendments brought into force by the Regulations relate to the operation of medium combustion plants (“MCPs”) and the Air Quality Standard Regulations.


What has changed?

The Regulations amend the previous 2016 regulations to add provisions relating to MCPS. A MCP is a combustion plant, or a combination of combustion plants, with a rated thermal input equal to or greater than 1 megawatt but less than 50 megawatts.

The amendments made by the Regulations provide that no MCP brought into operation after 20th December 2018 can operate without a permit.

For MCPs already in operation as at that date, those with a rated thermal input above 5 megawatts are brought within the permitting regime from 1st January 2024, and those with a rated thermal input of 1 to 5 megawatts are brought within the permitting regime from 1st January 2029.


The amendments require permits for the operation of MCPs in order to ensure compliance with emission limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust.

The new permitting rules relating to MCPs have been brought in in light of the government’s commitment to improving air quality standards in England and Wales owing to a combination of EU law, emissions scandals of recent years and an overall trend of increased environmental protection awareness.

How might it impact you?

Those in the industry who utilise combustion plants, or propose to utilise them in the future, should bear in mind the new restrictions and requirements in relation to their use when considering how implementable they may be.

Air Quality Standard Regulations

What has changed?

The Regulations also make amendments to the Air Quality Standard Regulations 2010 as part of the updated provisions relating to MCPs.

The amendments require that when preparing an air quality plan, the Secretary of State must consider whether to impose lower emission limit values for MCPs than those set out in the relevant EU Directive, if that would make a noticeable improvement to air quality. This is a discretionary provision which allows the government to reduce emission limits for combustion plants on the basis that it will reduce emissions and improve air quality.


The reason for the focus on air quality standards is set out in the impact assessment carried out prior to the introduction of the Regulations.

It is said that the objectives of the measures proposed are to deter a further increase in the use of high nitrogen dioxide emitting generators and improve air quality. These measures are hoped to reduce emissions and concentrations of key pollutants harmful to human health and the environment helping the government meet national emissions ceilings.

It is also said that poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK exacerbating the impact of pre-existing health conditions, especially for the elderly and children. The government has legal obligations on air quality including reducing emissions of pollutants; meeting limits on local concentrations of pollutants; and implementing regulations on particular pollutant sources. It is said that the government is taking action to ensure the UK population’s exposure to nitrogen oxide is within the maximum levels permitted under EU law.

How might it impact you?

The impact assessment predicts that the regulations may have a significant monetary impact on businesses, but that there are non-monetary benefits that make the new scheme worthwhile. While it is stressed that the predictive numbers provided are indicative estimates due to the lack of evidence, they do suggest that the great majority of the burden from the policy is likely to fall on medium and large businesses.

However, it is said that the monetary benefits are likely to substantially underestimate the full social benefit. Reducing emissions of air pollutants from high nitrogen oxide generators will benefit natural ecosystems, biodiversity and the wider environment which cannot be monetised.

If you require any further information or clarification on the new Regulations, please contact a member of the team.

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