Published 17 February 2012
An Auckland Council committee held back yesterday on banning open fires in the home, as much to get its procession of plans into the right order as for the opposition to the measure.
Banning open fires in homes from 2014 in the urban area was recommended by the council’s environment & sustainability forum after it debated the question last year, and was supported by an 18-page report. The idea of the forums is that they work on new ideas, sometimes forwarding recommendations to a parent committee, as in this case.
The recommendation on domestic emissions came as the first of proposed emission recommendations, with others on transport & industrial emissions to follow.
But from the tone of yesterday’s committee meeting, this recommendation was plainly out of sync with the series of plans the council is working on – a long-term plan, a spatial plan, area plans and a unitary plan (this last, to implement the policies of the first 2).
It was also very short on evidence that the costs to households had been fully analysed, that costs in terms of the effects on health had been analysed as well as they might have been and – based on 2006 data – that it was either up to date or, 6 years on, accurate.
The result was that the committee supported continuing funding options for retrofitting homes, agreed to consider community education frowning on using treated or wet wood in home fireplaces, agreed in principle to consider using bylaws to regulate air pollution from home fires (to be confirmed in April), but rejected the ban on open fires until a further report is received in May.
Cllr Arthur Anae questioned the need for change because of the takeup of heat pumps, and a number of councillors recoiled at the thought of forcing 27,000 non-complying households to spend an estimated $3-4000 each to get a compliant woodburner.
Deputy mayor Penny Hulse said the unitary plan set out clearly it would be outcomes focused: “I’d like to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves. After the unitary plan, I would imagine the next step would be bylaws. I think we need first to have a discussion about approach. Prostitution is another one, we haven’t yet had a discussion about our approach, outcomes, then bylaw…. I think a rushed bylaw now separate from the unitary plan process is not what we want.”
Cllr Des Morrison said the bylaw review programme would be spread over 5 years: “At this stage I would not see this coming in before the unitary plan draft.”
Cllr Mike Lee: “Obviously the recommendations are well meaning (but) I’ve been disappointed emphasis has come off vehicle emissions and on to households. I resent being told that if we do not do as we’re told the minister’s going to come up with a big stick. If we were totally to accept the standards for industrial emissions, vehicle emissions and emissions from households, I suspect they (industry & transport) are forceful lobbies which can hit back. I don’t believe it is fair & logically justifiable (to hit households). The fact is, open fires are being phased out.”
Forum chairman Wayne Walker commented: “Our officers & forum haven’t taken our eye off transport emissions. We also have to put in our minds retrofitting, improving the health of Aucklanders. We have to transform this city and this is part of that package so let’s have the big city hats on next time.”
Cllr Callum Penrose introduced the parish pump element to the debate: “Our kids do firewood for fundraisers, it keeps them out of crime. I just wonder how far we go. Do we ban sausage sizzles if the sausages are too fatty?”
Council air specialist Herb Familton said the bigger consideration was the Government’s air quality standard, which required the council to meet the standard by 2016. He said by starting with a bylaw now instead of waiting for the unitary plan to be put in place, the council could react more quickly.
Cllr Sandra Coney seized on that point, and the potential impact on businesses if the standard wasn’t met in Auckland by the designated date: “I’m particularly interested in implications for new industry if we don’t meet the standard by 2016.”
Mr Familton: “First, new emitters would be banned. If we are not compliant, industry will have to offset, which means they will to remove pump sources, so that’s going to be a cost for industry. A new industry which needs a new discharge consent will have to buy offsets. The minister has already written compliance strategy. If the council isn’t compliant with the national environmental standards, there will be a graduated step of questions to the council, and the minister has powers under the Resource Management Act to require things to be done.”
Cllr Coney: “So we can’t drag the chain on this. It’s actually not a heavy-handed approach at this stage. It’s incremental. As the environmental agency for Auckland, we’re going to look pretty stupid (by not implementing the policy), so I support the recommendations.”
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Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.