POOR air quality in a polluted part of Oxford is ‘not a major issue’ despite evidence suggesting that around 50 people have died with conditions linked to poisoned air.

Councillor Eric Batts, the Vale of White Horse District Council’s cabinet member for legal and democratic services, said he had never suffered ill effects from air quality in more than two decades spent living in Botley.

He was responding to a claim from a fellow councillor who said the council’s handling of air quality was ‘embarrassing, horrible (and) unjustifiable’.

Mr Batts, who now represents Kingston Bagpuize and lives in Abingdon but used to live in Botley, was reacting to a call that the councils set up an emissions zone, like neighbours in South Oxfordshire.

He said: “I don’t think Botley or North Hinksey needs this. I’ve never suffered any effect from it, the air quality.”

He added: “The figure of some 50 people dying across the Vale each year due to air quality: how can it be proved that any of these are long-term residents of the Vale? How many of those people have come from other countries, like India, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan where the air quality is a damn sight worse quality than it is here? That’s what the problem is.”

Later, speaking to the Oxford Mail, he said: “You can’t say that they are 50 people who are long term residents. They may have come from the Third World and other countries.

“It’s not such a major issue as people claim it is. I lived in Botley for over 25 years and even in the last few years (of living there), no one brought it to my attention, about the air quality.”

At the council meeting on December 13, the council rejected to look at completing parts of air quality plans which it had started in 2015 but has not completed.

The Liberal Democrats’ leader on the Vale council, Debby Hallett said: “About 50 people die from the effects of air pollution and the fact that we are doing nothing, not even things that we said we were going to do, I think is just shameful. That’s the word that was used before.

“It’s embarrassing, horrible, unjustifiable.”

Oxford Friends of the Earth’s Chris Church said: “Clearly, as with the smoking of tobacco, no one can prove air pollution is solely to blame for death in any case but as with tobacco the evidence is that air pollution shortens lives overwhelmingly.”

Mr Church added that whole world is affected by air pollution and to suggest otherwise is a ‘serious misrepresentation of the facts’.

Public Health England estimated that across Oxfordshire 276 people died from conditions linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, including nitrous oxide, in 2014. It estimated 52 people had died as a result of conditions linked to poor air pollution.

It also found that a total of 557 years of residents’ lives were lost as a result of the poor air quality.

That the same year, 26 people died in road traffic accidents in the county.

Toxic gas from car exhausts can cause lifelong breathing problems, such as asthma, and stunt lung growth by up to ten per cent.

Experts have warned the problem needs to be urgently fixed before another generation of children is put at risk.