ONE in 20 deaths in Oxfordshire is linked to air pollution, new Government figures have claimed.

Public Health England has identified long-term exposure to small particles in the air to 276 deaths in the county in 2010 – the most recent figures – although yesterday councillors and health experts were divided over how much pollution could be blamed.

The death rate of 5.6 per cent was on par with the South East average of 5.5 per cent. Public Health England said cutting emissions could see a reduction in this within five years.

Oxford City Council Green Party leader Craig Simmons said:“Early deaths caused by air pollution are a serious problem around the country and Oxford is one of those places.

“We’re very concerned about the air pollution levels, which is definitely enough to kill people.”

Mr Simmons said air pollution figures had worsened in the city but levelled out in rural areas since 2010.

He believes the approved Westgate Shopping Centre development would make it worse in the city because traffic would increase.

The city council’s latest figures in 2012 show that air pollution remains above the European Union’s target.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council have worked together in tackling air pollution by introducing a low emission zone in January. It requires buses to comply with European standards for levels of nitrogen.

Oxford Bus Company has upgraded 36 per cent of its fleet to electric hybrids, which will cut fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

The county council has removed bus stops in Queen Street and says it promotes cycling and park and ride schemes, reducing traffic by a quarter in the past 20 years.

Oxfordshire public health consultant Eunan O’Neill said: “Air pollution and any deaths attributable to its effects is of concern but not a cause for alarm in Oxfordshire.

“The report does not mean people are dying of air pollution. Instead it tries to roughly estimate the tiny effect of air quality on the whole population and sweeps these tiny fractions together to come up with 276 as an answer – but the real figure might be only one-sixth of this.

“This result is on a par with neighbouring counties and what we would expect in a rural county with busy commercial centres.”

County council cabinet member for environment David Nimmo Smith said: “We’re doing everything we can but even one death is more than we would like to see.

“It’s a national issue, not just a local issue. Whatever we do locally has to be replicated nationally and vice-versa.”

Oxford City Council spokesman Chris Lee said pollution hot spots were limited to congested streets in the city centre.

He said: “Most healthy adults are unlikely to be significantly affected by the levels of air pollution normally found in Oxford. However, we know air quality needs to improve.

“We have worked hard with our partners to help improve air quality in the city and we will continue to work towards further improvements.”

PHE director of health protection and medical director Dr Paul Cosford said: “Policies that encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling would be expected to reduce total vehicle emissions, including particulate pollution.”

  • If you have lost a relative because of air pollution, please call Dan Robinson on 01865 425483.