AIR pollution plays a role in one in 24 deaths in York.

Research by think tank Centre for Cities found 4.2 per cent of deaths in York are related to tiny toxic particulates PM2.5 - which are released from transport, wood burning stoves and coal fires.

A councillor has called for action, saying the city has been “too slow to act on this silent killer”.

And Centre for Cities is urging councils to introduce charges for car and van drivers in city centres and ban woodburning stoves and coal fires.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of the organisation, said: “Failure to act now will lead to more deaths in Yorkshire.”

The rate of deaths linked to air pollution in York is higher than larger cities Sheffield and Wakefield.

Cllr Danny Myers of York Labour group said the figures are “shocking”, adding: “York has been too slow to act on this silent killer.

“We should be looking to cleaner cities around the world to find ways to halt these premature deaths.

“We still have areas in our historic city in breach of the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Bootham and Fishergate are particular problem areas and our Liberal Democrat/Green Party-led council is doing nothing to alleviate it.”

He said more must be done to improve public transport and reduce traffic.

Cllr Paula Widdowson, Lib Dem executive member for climate change, said York is investing £1.6 million to create the UK’s first voluntary clean air zone - due to launch later this month - without Government funding.

And she said the council is investing in initiatives to improve air quality including tree planting, an electric car charging network and electric waste vehicles.

She added: “Air pollution is a major concern for many people across the UK, with emissions from vehicles being linked to numerous health problems beyond asthma and lung disease. This is an issue the Government has failed to take seriously, having lost numerous court cases over the failure to set out clear plans to improve air quality.”

Centre for Cities said the number of deaths linked to exposure to air pollution is 21 times higher than the regional rate of deaths from traffic accidents.

And that Government should adopt stricter guidelines on levels of PM2.5 particulates - as the Scottish Government has already done - put £660 million towards helping cities tackle air pollution, provide incentives to improve air quality and make plans with the EU to fight cross border air pollution.

Conservative councillor Paul Doughty said any avoidable death is “clearly a cause of concern” and tackling the problem is a priority for the council and Government.

He added: “Whilst we know this is a long term problem that will require societal change, not just in York but across the globe, there is some reassurance from the Public Health England data showing that deaths attributed to air pollution in York is on a general downward trajectory and has been for a number of years.”

Labour called for traffic to be banned from within the city walls by 2023 - a move backed by a majority of councillors last month.

The council also introduced a £20 fine for people who do not switch off their car engines while parked.

Green Party councillor and deputy leader of the council Cllr Andy D'Agorne said: "Greens have been campaigning in York for action on cleaner air for over a decade, which is why we worked so hard to insist on ultra low emission vehicles in the current park and ride contract – with 21 new electric double decker buses due to come into service in the next few months.

"Electric vehicles are only part of the solution because particulates are also produced by sharp breaking and cornering through brake and tyre wear.

"We have to make it easier and more attractive for people to switch from private car use to buses, cycles and walking.

"Shopping local or in city centre stores and markets can help cut car use, and give options for a more healthy lifestyle involving active travel.

"York’s bus based Clean Air Zone will help but cutting individual car use will both help cut congestion and make it more attractive to use other non polluting ways to travel.

"Individual action as simple as switching off the engine while answering a mobile or waiting for children to come out of school would make a big difference too!"