NEW slip roads will help improve air quality in one of West Oxfordshire’s most polluted areas, according to the district council.

Bridge Street in Witney was declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 2005 due to excessive Nitrogen Dioxide emissions, with dozens of households breathing in toxic air.

The problem has been blamed on the thousands of vehicles using the town centre route every day and a council paper due to be discussed this afternoon suggests more slip roads on the A40 at Shores Green will reduce pollution.

The council has also committed to producing a ‘comprehensive environmental plan’ to respond to the current ‘climate emergency’, which will be proposed at a full council meeting on June 26.

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Environmental consultant and Witney town councillor, Andrew Prosser, has proposed ‘radical changes’ to combat pollution, including banning petrol and diesel cars from using town centre routes, but council leader, James Mills, disagrees.

He said: “Banning people from driving through Bridge Street is not the answer for two reasons.

“Firstly, we live in a rural area where many people have to use their cars to access services in Witney.

“Secondly, there needs to be an alternative route across the river Windrush that does not involve rat-running through Crawley or the farm bridge at Shores Green.”

This afternoon, the council’s cabinet is expected to approve an ‘issues paper’ for the East Witney Strategic Development Area, which is earmarked for 450 homes as part of the district’s local plan. A six week public consultation would follow.

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The document states the homes must be built alongside ‘essential improvements’ such as slip roads on the west side of Shores Green, where design work will begin this summer.

It adds that the slip roads could ‘reduce the amount of traffic in Bridge Street, thereby helping to address the current problems of poor air quality’. Allied with ‘changes to the physical highway infrastructure’ in the centre of Witney, traffic on Bridge Street could fall ‘very significantly’, the paper continues.

An air quality action plan for Bridge Street is still pending review, even though a plan was produced for Horsefair in Chipping Norton, the district’s other AQMA, 11 years ago.

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Mr Prosser admitted tackling air pollution was ‘not easy’, but suggested ‘a more comprehensive approach’ was needed to get the issue under control.

He said: “Shores Green is only going to mitigate it slightly, due to other roads coming into the town centre.

“The district council has failed in its duty of care because for the last eight years Bridge Street has been well above the safe levels of Nitrogen Dioxide.

“Whether you’re in a car or walking through that, you’re breathing toxic air, especially during rush hour.”

“It’s a serious health issue and needs radical changes. They could even close off some of the roads to petrol and diesel cars.”