OPINION: The announcement last week by Environment Canterbury that it may allow woodburners to be installed in Christchurch houses some time in the future is unlikely to appease homeowners concerned to have a reliable source of heating now.
If it was intended to allay complaints about ECan's rigid application of its rules for woodburners, the announcement was more tantalising than satisfying.
While an ECan commissioner acknowledged the new circumstances created by the region's earthquakes, there is no sign of the organisation showing any significant flexibility in adjusting its rules to meet those new circumstances.
It may not be entirely fair, but many people will see ECan's position as a case of sticking to policies and practices that are no longer appropriate in the same manner that has brought so much criticism on Christchurch City Council.
No-one who remembers Christchurch of a few decades ago, when in the depths of winter the smoke generated by thousands of wasteful and inefficient open fires mostly burning low-quality coal made the air thick with soot, would want those days to return.
Christchurch was painfully slow to do anything about its air-pollution problem and change only came within the last couple of decades with a combination of carrot and stick in the form of incentives inducing homeowners to change to cleaner forms of heat and the enactment of national air-quality standards.
The health and other benefits brought about by the programme to improve air quality by doing away with open fires and woodburners that do not operate efficiently cannot be denied.
The earthquakes have provided an opportunity to hasten the phasing out of inefficient woodburners which ECan has taken by sticking to the policy it has had since 2002 of not permitting woodburners in new homes.
This means that ECan is refusing to allow homeowners who had a woodburner and whose homes have been destroyed by the quakes to install another one in any new home they build. For many with access to a supply of cheap woodfuel the policy risks adding additional financial hardship to the many others they are already facing.
ECan said last week that its policy could change in future but this would not be until ultra-low emission woodburners were developed. That is not likely to happen for several years. As a practical concession to present problems it is useless.
Even the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, recognises the inadequacy of ECan's response.
As someone who grew up in Christchurch, she is scarcely unaware of the problem with air quality that once existed but as she sensibly observes the issue is not black and white.
Wright is apparently thinking there of the adverse health consequences likely to occur if people cannot adequately heat their homes. There is little point in having pure air if homeowners are suffering in freezing houses.
Everyone can sympathise with the wish expressed by ECan commissioner David Bedford that ECan did not want to go backwards on air quality.
Some adjustment to ECan's present policy should, however, be possible without risking any drastic backsliding to the bad old days.
Something other than continuing the ban adopted before the earthquakes would show that ECan truly understands that circumstances have changed.
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