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‘User stories’ show integrated way forward for air pollution assessment tools

Case Study 2019

'User stories' show integrated way forward for air pollution assessment tools

Image: Coastal grazing marsh, Salthouse, Norfolk  Credit: © Natural England/Allan DrewittJNCC collaborates with the country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs) on air pollution work through the Interagency Air Pollution Group (IAPG). The group works together to provide evidence and advice for air pollution impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Air pollution issues cut across several policy areas relevant to Defra, the CNCBs and regulators, including human health issues, biodiversity, industrial emissions, agricultural sources and natural capital. Industry and individuals also invest resources to undertake or commission air pollution assessments to support applications for planning permission or environmental permits.

By 2017, it had become evident to the IAPG that there was need to bring together the wide range of data sources, guidance, dispersion models and assessment tools for air pollution assessment that have been developed over time. The many tools and data sources available in several places for similar user requirements make it difficult and confusing for local planning authorities, other organisations and the public that want to access and interpret the evidence available. At the same time, the group identified gaps amongst the current tools and a lack of interaction between information gathered for individual proposals and national policy and inventories.

To tackle this, JNCC led the Integrating Tools for Air Pollution Assessment (ITAPA) project – an initiative to recommend technical solutions to ensure that air pollution impacts are fully taken into account in decision-making. The work has been conducted in partnership with Natural England, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.


The Integrating Tools for Air Pollution Assessment (ITAPA) project

Evolving requirements, open data, technological advances and the need for greater efficiency and transparency in decision-making meant it was timely to undertake a ‘discovery project’ to define the range of user requirements and evaluate some new common options for providing a consistent, risk- and evidence-based method for assessing potential effects from air pollution.

Throughout the project, JNCC worked closely with stakeholders from public, private and non-governmental organisations who use tools for air pollution impact assessment, and examined their requirements through understanding their 'user stories'. As well as being typical of JNCC’s customer-focused approach, these user stories are also a requirement of Government-funded software development projects. 

The ITAPA project identified a wide range of user needs covering four related overarching assessment types: 

  • impact assessment of a point/linear source (typically a single source, permit application);
  • impact assessment for a multi-source assessment (typically a local strategic plan);
  • understanding effects of national policy measures;
  • identifying measures to reduce impacts on sites, including scaling from local to national level.


These needs were explored with external stakeholders around the themes of data and visualisation, modelling and assessment tools, and reporting/outputs. Technical solutions explored included a 'signposting' document, a data portal, shared metadata for existing data sources and an integrated tool for assessing project impacts on habitat.

After cost-benefit analysis of the various technical solutions, the ITAPA recommendation is to build an integrated tool utilising the open source software of a Dutch air pollution tool, AERIUS. This would harmonise many maps, data and calculation tools for air pollution ecosystem assessments into a single user-friendly interface.


Next steps

The ITAPA steering group is now exploring funding options for the build of the new integrated tool. If successful in securing funds, a part of the development will be to drill down into the detail of user requirements regarding modelling, background pollution data and the decision basis.

Subsequent to the original project, the UK Government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 has been consulted on and approved. It includes some actions which relate closely to the ITAPA user needs assessment and reinforce the proposed solution.


Links to additional material:  AERIUS


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