Air pollution has been halved in Swindon – very possibly due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Research that the levels of nitrogen dioxide detected at the Walcot monitoring station has dropped from a mean average of 14.5 mg/m3 from March 19-26 last year to 7.6 mg/m3 last week (March 17-24).

Nitrogen dioxide is highly toxic and produced by burning fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel used by vehicles.

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for public safety Cathy Martyn said: “Any improvement in air quality is to be appreciated.

"You could assume that this apparent decrease in NO2 comes as a consequence of the government’s ‘lockdown’ and less traffic on the road, but we know from previous discussions that air quality is affected by many complex factors.

“We also know that many people are unable to travel to work or school and we’re all currently experiencing disruption to many businesses and the economy, none of which are functioning as usual.

“The readings are something which officers will look at in the future, but not now while we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

"At this time, Swindon Borough Council officers are all working extremely hard in very difficult and fast-changing circumstances to try to ensure that frontline services continue and that all residents get the help and support they need.”

Jane Milner-Barry, the Labour group’s spokeman on the environment, said: “I would not rely too much on the figure for one week at one monitoring station but nationwide figures suggest that levels of NO2 and particulates are falling because there is so much less traffic on the roads.

“You can’t see air pollution but it affects us all. We are told that air pollution is responsible for around 5 per cent of total mortality in Swindon as it contributes to the deaths of people with other health problems.

"The option of living, working and enjoying life without a private car – whether petrol or electric – needs to be available to everybody.

“Transport emissions are one of the main contributors to climate change.

"The coronavirus outbreak is demonstrating how people will come together to face a crisis, and this is the spirit in which, when the pandemic is over, we will need to take on the battle against climate change which is the most urgent issue of our times.

Stan Pajak is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council.

He said: “This is an amazing reduction which serves to illustrate how much dangerous pollution is caused by car usage.

“The lesson to be learnt from our awful situation today is in the future to consider our travel choices and whether our journeys by car are necessary and consider sharing, walking, cycling and keep supporting our local shops who are proving such lifesavers amid the crisis.”