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Motivation behind false air quality data a mystery

Stuart Spear10/08/2017 - 13:23

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Tail pipe emissions from cars were falsified
Tail pipe emissions from cars were falsified

In the interest of transparency Cheshire East council has released the full report into its deliberate falsification of air quality data and the consequences over a three-year period.

Yesterday’s decision to release the report follows last week’s admission by the council concerning the ‘deliberate and systematic manipulation’ of air quality data to make it look cleaner between 2012 and 2014.

However, the publication of the report fails to shed any light on what motivated an individual or individuals to falsify air quality records.

The discrepancy between lab data and the figures being recorded in the council’s air quality management database first came to the attention of council cabinet members in July 2016.

The council’s internal audit team then commissioned an external investigation into how the falsification occurred. It is this report by auditors Bureau Veritas that the council has chosen to release.

The report reveals the falsification of data in 2013 and 2014 from diffusion tubes across the borough by subtracting exactly 10 micrograms per cubic metre off several months of data, suggesting the manipulation was not to do with a single planning application.

The report states: ‘It is highly unlikely that this could be attributed to anything other than deliberate manipulation.’ and that the actions were ‘motivated by a general wish to reduce concentrations across the whole council administrative area, rather than by the wish to favour specific set of planning applications.’

In particular the report explores the 29 occasions where diffusion tubes recorded concentrations of over 40 micrograms per cubic metre, the average annual EU threshold for illegal NOx emissions, when the reported concentrations were below this threshold.

Again, this happened over a wide geographical area. The report adds the caveat that not all of these incidences may have been as a result of deliberate falsification.   

It also reviews 153 planning applications over the period identifying 43 applications where false air quality data may have resulted in a change to the planning decision made. Out of these 12 applications were deemed ‘high risk’ as there was significant concern that false data impacted the assessments.

The review also looks at a further 38 applications were air quality assessments were not submitted.

The environmental health department has undertaken a review of the 12 ‘high risk’ applications in respect of air quality concluding that ‘planning decisions would not have been affected by the updated air quality data.’

Ainsley Arnold, cabinet member for housing and planning said: ‘Following this thorough analysis we can confirm that all planning applications have been granted correctly and that no additional mitigation measures would have been required had the correct data been used at the time.’

What is still a mystery is the motivation of the person or people involved in the data manipulation. ‘We don’t know the motivation which is frustrating, the obvious thing to think is: “would these actions have favoured one developer?” but that is clearly not the case,’ said a council spokesperson.

The council is unwilling to comment on any disciplinary actions taken as an internal investigation is still ongoing.


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