Christchurch smokebusters to hit the streets for third year

Smog over Christchurch at sunrise.
FAIRFAX NZ

Smog over Christchurch at sunrise.

Smokebusters will be back patrolling Christchurch streets to crack down on winter air pollution.

It is the third year investigators have been deployed by Environment Canterbury (ECan), in an effort to continue what the regional council says is progressively improving air quality.

ECan deputy chairman Steve Lowndes said it did not want to take the "foot off the pedal".

A smokebuster on patrol in 2015.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

A smokebuster on patrol in 2015.

Three two-person groups will be roving the city from June 6, looking for chimneys producing visible smoke. 

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New rules came into effect this year requiring replacement of wood burners that are at least 15 years old.

Smoking chimneys contribute heavily to Christchurch's smog problems.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Smoking chimneys contribute heavily to Christchurch's smog problems.

They can be replaced with a low-emission wood burner, provided a building consent is lodged with the Christchurch City Council by October 31.

If that deadline is not met, they can only be replaced with an ultra-low emission burner, which is more expensive.

National rules require that Christchurch have three or fewer high air pollution nights each year. Last year, the first winter in which the rules were in place, Christchurch had five. It has had two so far this year.

Timaru remains well off meeting the target: it had 27 high air pollution nights last year, and three this year.

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Rangiora and Kaiapoi are also off-target, with seven exceedances each last year, and one for Kaiapoi this year

Although breaching the rules, Christchurch had recorded substantial progress from years past where there had been as many as 50 high air pollution nights, Lowndes said.

"Last year we had five exceedances, which is a huge measurable success. So we're pressing that home and not taking our foot off the pedal."

Home heating in winter was the primary cause for air pollution in the region, making up 67 per cent of pollution in Christchurch and up to 90 per cent in Kaiapoi, according to ECan figures.

If the smokebusters spot a chimney producing visible smoke for more than 15 minutes, the owner will receive an information leaflet and a bundle of kindling.

A second visit will result in a reminder; a third visit a warning letter; a fourth visit an abatement notice.

Dozens of warning letters relating to smoke emissions were sent out across Canterbury last year, including 14 in Christchurch. No-one was prosecuted.

The regional council was hesitant to take a punitory approach, considering the rules were new, principal strategy advisor Cat White said.

"With introducing these new standards, we do want to give people a bit of grace. It's implementing new rules, so you can't expect changes overnight.

"That's not to say that eventually our approach won't become more pragmatic. We can't expect to turn a blind eye to people who continually have a non-compliant burner or a smoky chimney."

Financial assistance was available for low income households to replace their burners, she said. Leniency may also be given in certain cases, such as people undergoing earthquake repairs.

While improving, White said more work was needed to achieve better air quality.

"We are conscious there's still a lot to be done. Compared to the rest of New Zealand, we still have an air problem."

More information about the new rules can be found on ECan's website.

 - Stuff

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