AIR pollution has gone up in some parts of Oxford and the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, contributing to hundreds of deaths every year.

Latest measurements show the amount of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the most polluted part of the city - St Clements - rose three per cent between 2014 and 2015, from 65 micrograms per cubic metre to 67.*

Levels are also rising in other parts of the city centre including George Street, High Street and Magdalen Street.

But overall in Oxford roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide have dropped by an average of 35 per cent across the city in the last 10 years. 

The city council has worked with Oxfordshire County Council for years to try to get levels of both particulate matter and NO2 down to the Government target of 40 micrograms per cubic metre by 2020.

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Oxford City Council's board member for environment John Tanner has warned that the construction of the new Westgate Centre could increase air pollution. 

Now a group of clean air campaigners have launched a new action group to get something done.

Oxford Friends of the Earth has spearheaded the new Oxfordshire Clean Air Action Group to force authorities to turn good intentions into action and ensure they reach their own targets.

Spokesman Chris Church said it's still a big problem. 

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He said: "This is causing people to get ill and die and it is a problem that can be sorted."

Latest figures from Public Health England estimate that 276 deaths in Oxfordshire could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, including NO2, in 2014.

In the same year just 26 people died in road traffic accidents in the county.

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Nitrogen dioxide has been associated with decrease in lung function, increase in asthma and cancer, adverse birth outcomes and death.

In Oxford, traffic accounts for 75 per cent of NO2 emissions.

Last year it was ranked one of the worst cities for air quality in the country after consistently failing to meet pollution targets.

Environmental campaigner Deborah Glass Woodin believes air pollution contributed to her husband’s fatal lung cancer.

Mike Woodin, Oxford's first Green Party councillor, died in July 2004 despite never smoking, and leading a healthy life that included cycling around the city.

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Reacting to the latest figures she said: "Things are getting worse and I don't feel like there is an ongoing conversation with bus companies.

"I had a conversation with my daughter the other day where she was talking about the drug and alcohol education she is getting at school and she pointed out she can chose her safety in those, but when she is cycling to school every day she's got no choice about inhaling air pollution."

John Tanner has warned that air pollution is at risk of being made worse when thousands of shoppers flock to the new Westgate Shopping Centre.

He told a recent city council meeting: "Slow-moving traffic is more polluting traffic.

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"I am horrified by the thought of having to choose between allowing the Westgate to open and poisoning the Oxford public."

'Radical' changes to roads in the city should be fast-tracked to help reduce congestion, he said.

Mr Tanner's claims were rejected by the county council, which insisted the reopened centre would not create more traffic because it would have fewer parking spaces than before.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council introduced a ‘low emission zone’ in Oxford city centre in 2014, requiring all buses to be low-emission vehicles.

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This has resulted in a switch from diesel to electric and hybrid engines.

The city council also encouraged people to cycle in Oxford by introducing its 'park and pedal' scheme at park and ride sites, which cost about £68,000.

The county council is now exploring the idea of a zero-emission zone in part of Oxford.

Oxford City Council spokesman Tony Ecclestone said: "This is a thriving city with a number of construction projects and changes to key routes. These can impact on traffic flow and subsequent air quality.

"We will continue to pursue partnership work, funding opportunities and to encourage behaviour change to walking, cycling and public transport."

A county council spokeswoman denied the authority was unprepared for the reopening of the Westgate and said it was working closely with the city council, bus companies and the developer, Westgate Oxford Alliance.

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She added: "Transport improvements around the development were approved by the city and county councils in 2014 as part of the planning application for the site and provide for safe and convenient access by all modes."

"And plans for the zero emission zone are being progressed through a joint project in the next six months."

The new centre would also have an underground car park with 170 spaces overall than the previous one, the county council said.

*In our original version of this article, we incorrectly said that the average levels of NO2 across the whole of Oxford had risen from 65 micrograms per cubic metre to 67 between 2014 and 2015. This was incorrect, and we are happy to clarify that that level relates to the worst part of Oxford - St Clement's.