Air Quality How Did the Manipulation Come to Light?

At the Audit and Governance Committee meeting on 28th September 2017 an internal
audit report into air quality was discussed.
In 2016, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a Sandbach resident
showed nitrogen dioxide levels of 39.5 microgrammes per cubic metre on Middlewich
Road in the town. This was queried by Sandbach Town councillors who commented
how it was suspiciously just below the threshold of 40 for declaring an Air Quality
Management Area. The accurate figure of 50.4 was later reported to an air quality
working group of Sandbach Town Council.
A staff member of Cheshire East Council raised concerns about the air quality data
more widely and this led to an external investigation which concluded that the data
had been deliberately and systematically manipulated over a number of years.
When the external investigation was commissioned it was supposed to determine the
reason for the errors and who is responsible. Sadly we still don’t know who did it or
why they did it and nobody has admitted responsibility (although at least one
Conservative Cabinet Member whose portfolio included air quality has denied any
responsibility on the grounds that Cabinet Members only deal in policy).
The review also identified that there were no policies or procedures in place to ensure
that air quality was effectively managed in accordance with statutory requirements.
Five new Air Quality Management Areas have now come into force from 1st October
2017.
The report presented said “Cheshire East Council’s real time analysers have recorded
no breaches of this limit for 2013, 2014 and 2015. By contrast, Putney Bridge in
London exceeded this limit on 19 occasions in the first week of 2016.” This might be
interpreted as an attempt to belittle the scale of the problem in Cheshire East. If that
was the intention then in came unstuck when Cllr Sam Corcoran presented the
detailed figures produced for Putney Bridge showing that although the number of
exceedences in 2015 & 2016 was very high, since March 2017 there had been NO
exceedences. In Putney the local council had measured the nitrogen dioxide levels on
an hourly basis, published the results, acknowledged the problem and taken steps to
improve air quality, leading to a dramatic improvement in air quality. The contrast
could not be greater with Cheshire East Council, where the problem was hidden, the
figures were manipulated and we are still awaiting any meaningful action to address
poor air quality on the Council’s own doorstep on Middlewich Road in Sandbach.
At the Audit Committee meeting the question was asked about why Cheshire East
Council’s team of data analysts had not picked up on the manipulation of air quality
data. The Conservative chair of the Audit Committee refused to allow discussion of
the manipulation of figures as that was subject to a police investigation and refused to

allow discussion of how to improve air quality as that would be a matter for a
different committee.
There have been issues with the publishing online of data from the few real time
analysers that Cheshire East Council operates.
Cllr Sam Corcoran said,
“In March 2016 I wrote “At a local level nitrogen dioxide along Middlewich Road is
already at high levels and will increase unless action is taken. I suspect that the
nitrogen dioxide levels along the pavements near the girls school are already at
dangerous levels (but the levels on the pavements are not measured ...). ” More
recently I have called for a real time air quality monitor on the pavement on
Middlewich Road between Sandbach High School and St Peter’s Rise. This could
then measure the levels of pollutants which children are breathing in on their way to
school. There are frequent traffic jams on this road at just the time when children are
walking to school. There is clear evidence that poor air quality affects children -
whether they are travelling in cars, cycling or walking. We need to improve air quality
along the routes to school for our children. At present the Conservatives are simply
denying there is a problem and not even measuring the air pollution levels on the
route from Elworth to the Sandbach secondary schools.”

Cllr Steve Hogben, Labour Councillor for Crewe South said,
As I said at the Environment & Regeneration Overview & Scrutiny Committee
recently, like my colleague, Cllr Brian Roberts, I live near an air quality management
area, and I have long thought there is something in the air in Crewe. The Clean Air
Acts of the last 60 years or so have made big changes, but air quality still needs to be
improved, not least by curbing the use of the internal combustion engine.
At a time when we are seeing year on year increasing levels of traffic congestion, and
there are also several thousand new houses in the pipeline for Cheshire East, it is vital
that the Council restores residents’ faith in how it carries out its legal duties regarding
the monitoring and control of air pollution in our towns and villages’.

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