A CYCLING campaign group has called for more people to get on their bikes to improve air quality in North-East towns.

Figures compiled by pro-cycling group Darlovelo, based in Darlington, estimate that more than 1,000 people across the region suffered an early death as a result of air pollution in the last year.

The group claims that thousands of people could live longer, and with fewer chronic illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema , if motorists left their cars at home.

Darlovelo members have used data from council air quality sensors dotted along roads in towns and villages alongside a formula produced by the World Health Organisation to calculate how the changing levels of air pollution can impact on death rates locally.

The group estimates that in the last year some 41 people in Darlington have died as a result of poor air quality, with 65 fatalities in Stockton and 58 people in Middlesbrough affected.

In County Durham, the group estimates there were 198 fatalities, with a figure of 248 in North Yorkshire.

Air quality sensors, which councils must operate by law, measure the levels of , which can be tracked in real time using a smartphone app called Clean Air in Cities.

Matthew Snedker, of Darlovelo, who helped to quantify the data, said: “We can see that as background air pollution levels increase, so do the levels of mortality.

“In the 1950s smog killed thousands of people and that resulted in the Clean Air Act. Now the matter is out of sight, out of mind for most people.

“We don’t see the pollution so we ignore its effects.

“Darlovelo is trying to highlight to people that this is an ongoing problem but the solutions are not that far-fetched.

“If people were to walk or cycle more the air pollution would decrease but there would also be other health benefits. For all the early deaths there are plenty of other people who are living with a reduced quality of life.

“If you can get people out of cars then we will all have a healthier lifestyle.”

The group has called for more cycle friendly conditions in towns around the North-East and has lobbied Darlington Borough Council to install segregated cycle lanes on busy roads, better protection for cyclists at junctions and lower speed limits in residential areas.