BBC – Cheshire East to Review 100s of Planning Applications based on Falsified Air Quality Data

BBC Cheshire 

Hundreds of planning applications are to be reviewed after a council admitted its air pollution data was “falsified” to make it look cleaner.

Cheshire East Council said “deliberate and systematic manipulation” took place from 2012 to 2014.

Cheshire Police is investigating whether any crimes were committed.

The council has apologised and said the falsified figures had caused “serious problems” in assessing applications for new developments.

“Serious” errors in the council’s air quality data readings, from 2012 to 2014, made them appear lower than they really were, an external investigation has revealed.

Falsified data “may have affected” decisions made on planning applications in Nantwich, Congleton, Crewe, Holmes Chapel and Sandbach, it concluded.

Emails seen by the BBC last month showed that auditors believed the number and nature of the inaccuracies meant human error was “unlikely” to have been responsible.

Sean Hannaby, the council’s director of planning and sustainable development, said: “We would like to assure everyone that we have done everything we can to rectify these failings.

“There are no immediate health protection measures needed as a result of these errors.”

Air quality and planning applications

Councillors have to decide if a development will:

  • Significantly affect traffic near the proposed site or further afield by increasing congestion
  • Introduce new sources of air pollution such as furnaces or chimneys
  • Expose people to existing sources of pollution by building developments in places with poor air quality
  • Release large amounts of dust during construction

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

All UK local authorities are obliged to monitor local air quality and submit their findings to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Defra said the data provided “an overview of pollution in locations where people are likely to be present and reveals historic trends which indicate whether policies to improve air quality are having the desired effect”.

Air pollutants include nitrogen dioxide from exhaust emissions which the government has been ordered to cut.

If a council does not meet national objectives it is obliged to declare an Air Quality Management Area and publish an action plan.

An internal review by Cheshire East Council auditors in 2016 found the air quality data submitted was different to the original data provided by the laboratory that analysed readings from the council’s monitoring equipment.

The falsified data was from testing stations “spread over a wide geographical area, which implies that the manipulation was not motivated by a wish to favour specific sites”, the council’s report summary said.

Cheshire East Council has not commented on any potential disciplinary action.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of this issue and understand the local authority is now considering its response to the investigation.”