Auckland Council’s Regulatory and Bylaws Committee recently proposed to create a new ‘Air Quality’ bylaw, but the proposal has been deferred until next year following resounding outcry by Aucklanders.
The rationale behind the proposed bylaw
The Committee’s intent was to improve air cleanliness in the Auckland Region, by reducing fine particulate air pollution and emissions. It was likely motivated by the 2016 deadline contained in the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality, by which regional councils must meet new air quality standards. The Committee identified home heating fires as being responsible for the largest proportion of wintertime particulate emissions in Auckland (approximately 75%). Other emissions sources (such as industry or vehicles) are currently more strongly regulated.
The controversial proposals
The proposed bylaw was set to come into effect in May 2015, and was to regulate the use and installation of open fire places and pre-2005 wood burners. Specifically, the bylaw would require Aucklanders to use only clean wood in home heating fires, and would have prevented them from selling a home with a non-compliant fireplace. By October 2018, the bylaw would be fully in effect, implementing a total ban on non-compliant fires (such as open fires) and the removal of all pre-2005 wood burners. Penalties of up to $20,000 were proposed to apply to persons convicted of breaching the new bylaw.
Not all indoor fires would have become illegal under the proposal; Aucklanders would still have been able to use enclosed wood burners if they were installed from 2005 onwards, and if they met the emission and efficiency standards after the bylaw came into effect. New indoor home heating fires would have continued to require building consent. Auckland Council expressed a willingness to consider temporary exemptions from the bylaw on cultural, historical or national significance grounds – but such an exemption would only have applied for up to three months.
Why were the proposals so unpopular?
The general public responded strongly to Auckland Council’s proposal. It was seen to be a costly and inconvenient measure, and would have affected a reported 85,000 households.
Many Aucklanders also feared for how the proposals would affect the elderly and vulnerable. In response to these concerns, Auckland Council had suggested that people who rely on a home heating fire should take advantage of its “Retrofit your Home” scheme, or one of Central Government’s supported schemes. These include ‘The Healthy Homes’ project, which provides free ceiling and under-floor insulation to qualifying applicants, or the ‘Warm Up New Zealand’ programme, which provides insulation funding to owners of homes built before 2000. There are also some local organisations which seek to improve home heating or to provide insulation to disadvantaged Aucklanders.
Auckland Council intends to re-release the proposed bylaw in 2015 for consultation. We will be interested to see what the Council will do to make the proposed bylaw more palatable to Aucklanders, and will keep you updated here.