Dutch policy and regulations for air quality

The Dutch policy to achieve good air quality has two objectives:

  • limiting the emission of harmful substances and
  • preventing long-term exposure of people to pollution

The granting of environmental permits to companies that require a permit as well as the implementation of a source control policy play a major role in limiting emissions.

To prevent the exposure of people, the zoning plan in connection with the assessment of the environmental quality standards is an important instrument (also in the context of proper spatial planning).

The way the regulations for air quality are established

The most important regulations on air quality can be found in Chapter 5 (Title 5.2) of the Environmental Management Act (Wet milieubeheer (Wm) in Dutch). Specific elements of the law are set out in Decrees and Ministerial Regulations.

The essence of Title 5.2 of the Wm consists of air quality standards, based on European directives. It also describes the basic obligations imposed by European directives, namely: assessment of air quality, reporting and actions to take. In the Netherlands, most of the measures are set out in the National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL in Dutch).

We will use the following building blocks to provide a brief description of the air quality regulations:

Air quality regulations and limit values

Particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are the main substances in the air quality regulations.

The air quality regulations and limit values are recorded in the Environmental Management Act (Wm), Title 5.2: air quality requirements.

Article 5.16 (1) of the Wm indicates when an (air polluting) project is permissible. The competent administrative authority must then make a reasonable case that the project meets one or a combination of the following conditions:

Spatial projects are of course also subject to the principle of proper spatial planning. For the air quality this may mean: the most vulnerable group on the least polluted location.

Along motorways and provincial roads, the Decree on sensitive destinations (in Dutch: Besluit gevoelige bestemmingen) may be relevant. This is because special rules apply within 300 and 50 metres of these respective roads. These rules aim to protect sensitive groups against air pollution exceeding the limit values. The administrative authority does not need to assess all projects and decisions against the air quality regulations from the Environmental Management Act. This is only required for the responsibilities listed in Article 5:16 (2) of the Wm.

National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL)

The National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL) provides national, regional and local measures to meet the standards. It takes account of the desired and planned spatial developments. The government, provinces and municipalities work together within the NSL.

To keep the NSL up to date, an annual update is performed: the NSL monitoring. The update includes:

  • a review of the past year (including the measurement and calculation results)
  • an update of the forecasts for coming years

Not make a significant contribution (NIBM)

If a project does 'not make a significant contribution' (NIBM) to air pollution, then no assessment against the air quality limit values is required. Proper spatial planning is always a requirement.

The NIBM implementation rules are set out in the Order in Council 'Not Make a Significant Contribution' (NIBM Decree) and the Ministerial Regulation 'Not Make a Significant Contribution' (NIBM Regulation).

The NIBM Regulation establishes quantitative limits for specific projects. A new development with no more than 500 houses and 1 access road, for instance, is always defined as not making a significant contribution.

However, there are also other ways that governments and promoters can prove a project does not make a significant contribution to air pollution.

Assessing the air quality

Where and how should concentrations of air pollutants be calculated and measured? This is defined in the Air Quality Assessment Regulation 2007 (Rbl).

The Regulation describes standard calculation methods for the assessment of air quality along roads and at point sources (companies).

Assessment against the limit values is not necessary everywhere. The two criteria are:

  • Is the location accessible to people? (applicability principle)
  • How long for will how many people be exposed at that location? (exposure criterion)