The air we breathe

Air pollution is the contamination of the air with particulates and substances that are harmful to the health of humans and other living organisms such as animals and food crops. It is damaging to the climate, contributes to habitat degradation and impacts on overall wellbeing. Anyone can be affected by poor air quality, however, the effects are often felt disproportionately, with mainly children, older people and those with underlying health issues most at risk of illness and even death.

Human activity and natural processes can generate air pollution. In the past, the use of ‘dirty’ fuel sources in our homes, workplaces and the transport modes of the time contributed to extremely poor air quality and poor living conditions in urban environments. In post-industrial times there has been substantial reductions in the presence of most pollutants such as lead, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide but our urban and wider environments are still significantly affected by pollution from transport, heating and cooking, and agriculture.

There are a number of factors that contribute to poor air quality in our built environment and a number ways in which we can tackle it. Historically, cities and towns were often planned with a dense and compact centres. This was never meant to accommodate the number and type of vehicles that use the space today. In these situations, street design and orientation, and transport mix combine to make air quality worse in the local area by trapping pollutants at ground level and impacting on people living, working and visiting a place. In response, cities in Scotland have begun to introduce Low Emissions Zones in their centres, preventing the most polluting vehicles from entering and encouraging a modal shift to active travel or vehicles that are less polluting. However, even zero tail pipe emission vehicles still produce pollutants from their brakes.

Green Spaces

We can design and reshape our existing places to tackle air pollution. Integrating green networks, parks and nature generally in our places can act as a buffer and filter for noise and pollution while supporting healthy choices when moving around. They can be designed in a way to encourage walking, wheeling and cycling, that are well linked to public transport routes so that that they generate less traffic. This can be achieved by prioritising active travellers over people using vehicles.  Active travel is inextricably linked to improving air quality and a means of reducing environmental noise and easing congestion, not only in our cities and towns but in our neighbourhoods, villages and rural centres.

Active Travel

Helping people to choose active modes of travel for short journeys rather than using the car has many proven benefits including reducing air pollution, improving people’s quality of life and physical and mental wellbeing. In turn, these gains can improve workforce productivity and children’s attainment along with economic gains such as saving money on healthcare and supporting local economies through higher footfall and visitor spending. Getting placemaking right helps to tackle air pollution, but also creates sustainable places that are vibrant and healthy to live and work in. This makes them more attractive places for businesses to invest.

Below are links to some key documents with information on air quality for Scotland:

Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 - Towards a Better Place for Everyone - (
Air Quality in Scotland - latest data, forecasts and air quality information (
Low Emission Zones Scotland | Transport Scotland
Climate change delivery plan: meeting Scotland's statutory climate change targets - (



Air Quality Lens, Place Standard Tool

An air quality lens resource for the Place Standard tool has been developed to support discussions about air quality when using the tool.

Click here to access the Air Quality Lens of the Place Standard Tool

Active Travel

Walking, wheeling and cycling is good for our health and for the environment.

Click here to find more information on active travel