Under questioning from Green Councillor Craig Simmons, the Oxford City Council Labour Portfolio Holder responsible for air quality (Cllr John Tanner) admitted - in a meeting of Scrutiny Committee last night - that pollution in the City Centre is most likely to worsen after the Westgate opens.
Although air quality in Oxford has seen a slight improvement in recent years, some areas such as St Clements Street, are getting worse. There are still times when EU nitrogen dioxide pollution limits are breached.
The Greens originally proposed that Oxford become an air quality management area, and later a low emission zone. These measures have been largely responsible for the small improvements seen over the last few years.
Says Cllr Simmons:
According to Government statistics quoted in the Council's own report, we are getting 55 early deaths a year in Oxford from air pollution. This is twice the number killed in road accidents countywide! Yet, the Council are simply not taking the matter seriously enough. They were warned at the time that approving the Westgate would lead to a deterioration in air quality - yet pushed it through planning anyway without any effective public transport provisions in place. All progress made on improving air quality is about to be lost. The consequences for those living or working in the City are extremely serious.
The UK Government recently lost a court case, filed by ClientEarth, for failing to take air quality improvements seriously.
Says Cllr Simmons: "The Labour-run Council are quick to blame the Government for failing to prioritise environmental concerns - but they are doing exactly the same thing here in Oxford."
At the Committee, Cllr Simmons also proposed a recommendation to urgently address the air quality deterioration in St Clements Street.
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