A PETITION signed by 1,400 people calling for major steps to be taken to cut air pollution in Oxford has been handed to Oxfordshire County Council.

Oxford Friends of the Earth (OxFOE) had gathered the signatures on a 30ft-long scroll of paper which was unfurled in front of councillors at the start of a full council meeting at County Hall yesterday.

Addressing councillors, OxFOE member Jacky Penning-Rowsell said: “Air pollution is killing an estimated 276 people per year in Oxfordshire.

"This corresponds to more than 550 avoidable premature deaths in the county between now and January 2020.

"This is totally unacceptable. We have more than 1,400 supporters calling on you to act now to improve the life chances of your constituents and their children.”

Last week the World Health Organisation said the rate of particles smaller than 2.5 microns which have been said to cause heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions for premature death – should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

But when Oxford was assessed, the WHO found that level was 14 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

OxFOE asked people what measures to reduce air quality they were in favour of being introduced across the city in addition to the county council and city council’s zero emissions zone project – which will see petrol and diesel cars banned in the city centre by 2035

Of 933 votes cast, 296 people said they would be in favour of prioritising more pedestrianised areas in the city, while another 291 people said they were most in favour of making park and ride charges cheaper.

Another 230 people said they would support introduction of a congestion charge.

OxFOE member Chris Church said: “We need positive action firstly to tackle these AQMAs and improve the health.

“A new programme will need resources, but it’s about better and more targeted use of those resources, about better coordination and about a readiness to take what may be hard decisions on traffic management, as many other cities have already done.”

“We welcome the initiatives taken such as the proposed zero emission zone, and we welcome the proposal for an inter-council group to work on this. "But we need action now, not in 2020 or 2035."

A motion urging the county council to work with other district councils to reduce pollution across Oxfordshire was passed unanimously.

Labour councillor John Sanders an inter-council group to talk to South Oxfordshire, West Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and Cherwell district councils to come up with plans to reduce emissions in their major towns.

Lib Dem Richard Webber said: “The problem with this whole issue stems back to the fact that district and county have been able to play it back it back to each other.”