IT Systems and Data Protection

02.08.17

Council apologises after air quality data was ‘deliberately’ altered

A council has apologised after it admitted that incorrect data that was used to form reports on air quality in the area had been subject to “deliberate and systematic manipulation”.

In a statement, Cheshire East Council said that due to the tampering the security of its air quality data had been exposed to unacceptable risk and it will now ensure that adequate processes, procedures and systems were in place to manage data in the future.

It follows a report received at a Cabinet Meeting in July 2016 that found “a number of data inaccuracies” on figures that had been submitted that would have an impact on air quality reports for 2014 and 2015.

The documents were reporting on the council’s monitoring of nitrogen dioxide levels at around 100 sites throughout the borough as part of local authority efforts to improve air quality.

Specifically, the errors have caused a number of issues for the council, including that wrong data was given to Defra in an annual statutory return, and it has also resulted in deficiencies in Air Quality Management Areas that will now need adjusting.

The council added that the data sets for the altered “diffusion tubes” – which measure air quality in different areas – were spread over the county, suggesting that they were not changed in order to favour specific sites.

However, it did say that Phase 2 of its investigation will look into planning applications in different areas to see if the revised data may have been motivated by certain planning decision outcomes.

“On behalf of the council I would like to sincerely apologise in respect of these findings, we would like to assure everyone that we have done everything we can to rectify these failings,” said Sean Hannaby, director of Planning and Sustainable Development at East Cheshire.

“It is worth reiterating that in July 2016 the then director of Public Health assured us that there are no immediate health protection measures needed as a result of these errors and I have been assured that this advice still stands.

“We appreciate that it has been a year now since we first reported these concerns, but it was important that we ensured a thorough review and investigation into this important matter.”

Hannaby stated that significant work had now been undertaken to ensure that there are now robust processes and procedures in place.

“The planning service is currently analysing the relevant planning applications to assess whether any additional mitigation measures are required,” he said. “Consideration is still being given as to the council’s response to the investigation’s findings in relation to any HR issues.”

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