Polluted cities given time to clean up

16:00, Jan 30 2011
DIRTY AIR: Early morning smog over Moncks Bay, Christchurch in August last year.
DIRTY AIR: Early morning smog over Moncks Bay, Christchurch in August last year.

The deadline for some smoggy towns and cities to meet air-quality standards has been extended from 2013 to 2020.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said a 2013 deadline for 15 airsheds around the country had been unrealistic. His announcement was made at the annual meeting of the National Party's environmental advisory arm, Bluegreens, in Akaroa on Saturday.

Smith said a draconian crackdown on non-compliers would have affected more than 180 industry consents and put about 17,000 people out of work.

Auckland, Napier, Blenheim and Hamilton have been given until 2016 to have no more than one breach of heavy air pollution per year. More polluted centres, including Christchurch, Timaru, Rotorua, Hastings, Ashburton and Nelson, will have until 2020 to meet the standard.

Smith said the new policy reduced the health benefits slightly from $1.911 billion to $1.746b, but also significantly reduced the economic costs from $867 million to $196m.

"We need to replace our old and open domestic fires, invest in cleaner technology in our factories, and continue to shift to modern low-polluting vehicles. These changes need to be paced to maximise the health benefits while minimising the economic costs."

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Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, who sits on the BusinessNZ council, said the standards, as they stood, were not achievable and a delay was sensible.

"To close down [businesses] because of some official line in the sky is a nonsense."

Labour's environment spokesman, Charles Chauvel, said delaying the deadline would mean 635 avoidable deaths, 505 unnecessary hospital admissions and more than a million extra sick days.

The delay would strain the public health system.

"It also means a big taxpayer subsidy to those businesses – we will all pay for the avoidable public hospital treatments for respiratory illnesses that this decision will cause," Chauvel said.

However, Smith rejected Chauvel's criticism.

"Setting a standard from the word go that no council's going to achieve is not going to save a single life."

Meanwhile, the Environmental Defence Society said a legal overhaul was needed to avoid a deep-sea drilling disaster off New Zealand's coastline.

Much of the law governing the ocean floor pre-dated the Resource Management Act, the Auckland-based group's chairman, Gary Taylor, said.

"It's outdated, it's working badly, it's in urgent need of reform."

Smith agreed New Zealand's environmental law had deficiencies.

"The exclusive economic zone is not adequately environmentally protected at the moment and new law is going to be required," he said.

"My hope would be that that is a legislative gap that we can move on this year."

The Government announced the creation of three huge subantarctic marine reserves, covering 435,000 hectares surrounding Antipodes Island, the Bounty Islands and Campbell Island.

However, long-line fishing of ling will be allowed to continue around the Bounty Islands.

Also, a five-year exemption has been granted to explore a potential deep-water crab fishery near Campbell Island, beyond the reserve area.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the islands were a World Heritage Area to the 12-mile zone.

"If you make something a World Heritage Area, you can't let the fishing industry in there to wreck it."

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson's announcement of the new reserves was made in Akaroa, a stone's throw from a proposed marine reserve area she rejected late last year.

The Press