Cherwell DC answers our Air Pollution FoI request.


You may recall that in November 2015, we submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Cherwell District Council.  We have now received a response and wanted to share their answers with you.  We are not satisfied with their answers and feel that our Council are ignorant of the issues; are not moving fast enough and are ignoring recommendations of consultants they commissioned to investigate.


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We are repeatedly told about Bicester being the UK's first EcoTown; how we are a 'Garden Town' and how our council are pushing a sustainable transport agenda.  Yet in reality none of this is having any impact.  The health of residents is being placed in danger.  The council has done nothing practical about it, your councillors seem unaware of the gravity of the issue.


Long term poor planning and lack of infrastructure is causing dangerous levels of pollution in Bicester
Long term poor planning and lack of infrastructure is causing dangerous levels of pollution in Bicester

Why has this issue come to light now?

How long has the issue been known about?

CHERWELL DC  say:  Pollution monitoring has been undertaken for many years in Bicester. Elevated concentrations of nitrogen dioxide have been recorded in Bicester and following guidance from Defra, the appropriate assessments have been undertaken. This has led to the Air Quality Management Area being declared in 2015. These assessments are available at


BicesterTAG say:  Our research shows that Cherwell District Council have been aware since at least 2013, that nitrogen dioxide levels were exceeded legal limits yet they have implemented no measures to address the problem.  These are legal limits, not simply 'guidance'.  The Oxfordshire Air Quality project states 'Air pollution has also been recognised by doctors as one of the worlds greatest 10 killers seeing some 29,000 premature deaths in the UK every year and some 430,000 worldwide'.  Find out more about the health dangers of nitrogen dioxide exposure here from the US Environmental Protection Agency.


What monitoring devices/regime are in place?

CHERWELL DC say:  We monitor nitrogen dioxide concentrations using passive diffusion tubes in line with Defra guidance.


BicesterTAG say:  The monitoring regime Cherwell District Council have implemented is not real time and depends on periodic manual data collection.  Information can therefore be delayed or lost.  There is no mechanism to warn residents when pollution levels exceed short term levels.  In Oxford, a real-time monitoring system has been deployed and the data is shared publicly via Twitter.  You can find out more about the 'Oxfordshire Air Quality' project at  You will also see locations where monitoring stations are (or have been) deployed in Bicester although data is only available up to 2013.  In central Oxford, live data is available and the results available via Twitter.  An example is shown below:

How do the measured levels compare to safe and EU legal limits?

CHERWELL DC say:  The yearly average levels of nitrogen dioxide are above the national air quality objective of 40 µg/m3. These are health based objectives and have been transcribed from EU Directive. It’s not clear what safe and legal limits you are referring to.


BicesterTAG say:  The figure of an average of 40 µg/m3 as an annual mean is a legal limit defined by a European Union standard and enforced in the UK by DEFRA.  This figure is based on WHO guidance.


Cherwell District Council commissioned specialists RICARDO-AEA to survey air pollution levels in Bicester.  You can download their report here via Cherwell DC's website.  The report's Executive Summary (page ii) says:


NO2 concentrations in excess of the annual mean objective are occurring at a large number of
residential properties on Kings End, Field Street and St John Street.


The table below shows the data as recorded in 2014.  It should be noted that the Kings End South figure has increased by 2.3 µg/m3 or 5% since 2013 (in comparison to Table 4).  The report's Summary and Conclusions (page 23) goes on to say that the Kings End figure is influenced by HGV vehicles (approximately 6.2% of vehicles).  Elsewhere in town, the report says that overall air quality could be improved by speeding up the flow of traffic where most of the pollution is caused by slow moving cars.


To summarise, the report implies that the wrong type of traffic is being routed through town and that by speeding up traffic flow generally the health of local residents could be improved.


Locations exceeding the 40µg/m3 legal limit are highlighted in red.
Locations exceeding the 40µg/m3 legal limit are highlighted in red.
The location of the survey points.
The location of the survey points.

How are current levels predicted to change in the future?

CHERWELL DC say:  Nitrogen Dioxide concentrations are predicted to decrease as lower emission technology is incorporated into motor vehicles, which are the major source of this pollutant.


BicesterTAG say:  Global oil prices have slumped.  UK petrol pump prices have fallen from £1.40 litre to around £0.99 today with some estimating that it may fall further to 90p/litre.  Whilst this is good news for many individuals in times of low pay growth it also means an increase in car journeys as more price sensitive motorists such as the elderly and the young, can afford to use their cars more frequently (source).  Whilst deployment of lower-emission technology and electric vehicles continues to grow, only around 1% of new UK vehicle registrations are electric (source). 


Furthermore the UK has one of the largest fleets of diesel cars at around 50%.  Although diesel cars do produce less carbon dioxide (CO2), they do produce other emissions including nitrogen dioxide which is harmful to health.  If you are interested in how this happened, read more here


Conclusion:  The number of car journeys will increase; electric vehicles are unlikely to become dominant in the next ten years and the large fleet of existing diesel cars will take many years to reduce a switch back to petrol started tomorrow.  Cherwell District Council's answer does not appear to be based on any real world data.

What is the Council's current strategy on tackling this issue?

CHERWELL DC say:  An action plan will be developed which will seek to improve air quality within the Air Quality Management Area to below the national air quality objective.


BicesterTAG say:  BicesterTAG plan to become members of the Air Quality Action Plan Steering Group so that we can work with council officials and report back if they are taking reasonable and effective measures to protect the health and well being of the people of Bicester.  We are very concerned that Cherwell District Council have known about this problem for over two years but have failed to implement any serious actions to reduce the pollution or revise their strategic plans for Bicester.


The Air Quality Management Area as established by Cherwell District Council as part of their 'Action Plan'.
The Air Quality Management Area as established by Cherwell District Council as part of their 'Action Plan'.


What measures are you considering to limit traffic in the affected areas?

CHERWELL DC say:  The measures currently considered to limit traffic in the Air Quality Management Area are those included in the Local Transport Plan 4. Further traffic limiting measures may be considered as part of the action planning process.


BicesterTAG say:  You can access Oxfordshire County Council's (note: not Cherwell District Council's) Local Transport Plan 4 website here.  The document you would need to read (if you are suffering a very bad case of insomnia) is 'LTP Volume 2 part ii' pages 57-68 here.  We have written and campaigned since our inception on the unsuitability of these proposals which you can read about on our website here.  Again, none of the proposed solutions despite their unsuitability to remove large numbers of through journeys from the centre of town will appear within the next 5 years at a minimum and most not for 10 years. 



We are incredibly disappointed by the response of Cherwell District Council to this very serious issue.  Their response lacks substance and does not seem founded on the realities of the problem.  They appear to lack the seriousness of the issue, they make no acknowledgement of their failings in allowing this situation to arise and they do not make any serious proposals to reduce the hazard to resident's health.  Worse still they continue to approve new developments in the worst affected area on the former hospital site.



Tell us what you think.  Are you satisfied with the responses from Cherwell District Council?  Do you feel that they understand the seriousness of the issue?  Are you comfortable that they are able to adequately manage the problem?  What is your confidence in the council's ability to management Bicester's future safely?



Cherwell District Council's new 'Member for Public Protection is Bicester's very own Cllr Debbie Pickford (Bicester Town).  Please email or write to Councillor Pickford to inform her how serious you consider this issue to be and what steps she is personally overseeing to ensure that resident's health is not harmed.  You can contact Debbie here.


You might also like to copy to your own Cherwell District Councillor.  You can find details of who that is below.  Remember that they each get £4,000 pa + expenses for being Cherwell District Councillors.  This means they are obliged as civic and community leaders to take an active and visible role in our town.



We have previously contacted all of Bicester's Cherwell District Councillors regarding this issue.  We thought that you might like to see some of their responses (Please note, for brevity only extracts are published here):


Councillor Debbie Pickford (Bicester Town & Member for Public Protection):


I fully agree that the areas that fall below the Gov. Target must have improvement have to be carried out. I will be keeping an eye on this monitoring.  I have made my views clear on Howes Lane and the junction onto Shakespeare Road clear at consultation meetings.

Councillors Rose & Lawrie Stratford (Bicester East):


Thank you for your email on "air quality".  We are happy to follow up CDC Lead member seeking a response.

The issue of "air quality" is reviewed on a regular basis across the District, usually in specific places where a perceived or real problem is identified.  I can recall two of these in recent times:-
+ Hennef Way in  Banbury & Queens Avenue in Bicester.

We continue to work with County, District, and Town Councils to try and ensure the continuing "challenge" of increased traffic in Bicester covers all aspects. These include traffic flow ( which impacts air quality directly ) and all types of " parking ".

We will bring you concerns forward at appropriate opportunities, e.g. Bicester Masterplan, Eco-Delivery, Graven Hill roll-out etc.

Councillor Russell Hurle (Bicester West):


Thank you for your email 4th January. I understand that you have now had a reply from Cllr. Rose Stratford. I hope this answers your questions.


Councillor Les Sibley (Bicester West):


Thank you for your email regarding Bicester's Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and your concerns which I share regarding air pollution being caused in the main by traffic congestion.

As a result of your email I have today requested that this matter be an agenda item for the next Bicester Traffic Advisory Committee which is due to take place on Thursday 14th January. Will keep you posted.


(As of 11th February, we have received no updates)

Councillor Dan Sames (Bicester South):


Many thanks for your e-mail. Air pollution is always a concern and we must all strive to lessen the impacts of it. Congestion is just one of a number of factors contributing to such pollution. Queen's Avenue has been an extremely busy road for many years but I firmly disagree with your view that nothing has been done to improve infrastructure to alleviate the traffic in this area. Skimmingdish Lane and Vendee Drive have both been built to divert traffic away from this area and have both had successes in doing this. However, you can't get away from the fact that Queen's Avenue is a major route into the Town Centre for half of Bicester so it is always going to be busy.


As lacklustre as some of those replies are (don't they get it?) at least they replied.  No replies were received from:  Councillors Norman Bolster (Bicester West), Nicholas Mawer (Bicester North), Richard Mould (Bicester Town), Melanie Magee (Bicester North), James Porter (Bicester South), Lynn Pratt (Ambrosden & Chesterton inc. Kingsmere) or David Hughes (Launton).