Pollution means end to open fires
New open fires will be banned in Blenheim houses from May 31 next year to improve air quality.
And Marlborough District Council environment committee chairman Peter Jerram warned that all open fires and older woodburners could be banned in town if people didn't stop burning coal and wet wood, causing air pollution buildup within the Blenheim town limits.
He said air pollution in urban Blenheim breached national air quality standards three times already this year, on May 23 and 31, and again on Tuesday, which meant that by law the council had to ban the installation of new open fires in houses within a year.
Last year, Blenheim exceeded the air standard six times in July and August, and recorded the highest levels of pollution ever.
Urban Blenheim is defined by the Environment Ministry as a "polluted airshed".
Mr Jerram said the new regulations and existing winter air pollution levels in Blenheim's urban area meant ways to improve air quality when temperatures dropped needed to be found.
"As a council, we don't have any choice but to enforce this requirement."
He agreed there were unlikely to be many new open fires installed in houses, so that ban was "an early flag being run up" to warn people about more change and encourage them to install clean-burning woodburners.
"We don't want to be draconian about it ... we don't want to drive people broke."
However, if air pollution continued to breach the standards, the council would have to do more, he said.
That would be a total ban on the use of existing open fireplaces and the phase-out of solid fuel burners that are 15 years old or more in a review of the council's Regional Policy Statement. It also proposes a ban on all outdoor burning in the Blenheim airshed (urban area) and to allow only new multi-fuel burners which comply with the National Environmental Standards to be installed.
Nelson banned open fires in 2008 and Christchurch in 2010.
Mr Jerram said people can make submissions on the proposals when they go out for public consultation. There would be education to stop people burning coal, and to encourage suppliers to sell only dry wood.
"The message is that we're not going to suddenly say `bang, no more fires' but people need to think much harder about what they burn in them."
Homeowners who rely on an open fire or an old woodburner could apply for the Government's EECA subsidy for insulation and clean heating, Mr Jerram said.
The council also offers Marlborough ratepayers a "Heat Smart" programme where they can borrow the cost of insulation and clean heating for their home and pay that off through their rates over a nine-year period, he said. That arrangement can be made in conjunction with the EECA subsidy.
Mr Jerram said a total ban would be "a sad thing to do". "We all like open fires. It is what man's done for thousands of years."
Flamey warmth is what we love
The open fire at Blenheim bar Secret Garden is a huge drawcard, co-owner Frank Walker says.
Mr Walker was dismayed to hear Marlborough District Council is considering banning existing open fires within the Blenheim urban area because of air pollution concerns, saying that the bar "thrived" on its open fire.
"People have meals in this room. They come here because there's an open fire, you get that lovely flamey warmth.
Woodburners are fine, but it's the atmosphere of an open fire that people just love, particularly if they have a glass of mulled wine."
Mr Walker said he appreciated the council's need to do something because of the breaches of the air quality standard by high air pollution levels.
"Air quality in Marlborough is pretty crap."
- The Marlborough Express