Air plan will become operative despite controversy around Timaru woodburner rule

South Canterbury Regional Air Plan Liaison Committee chairman Mark Rogers with committee members Doug Cleveland, centre, ...

South Canterbury Regional Air Plan Liaison Committee chairman Mark Rogers with committee members Doug Cleveland, centre, and Tom O'Connor.

A controversial air plan was officially approved by Environment Canterbury on Thursday after a last-ditch appeal to postpone the decision was not heeded.

The Canterbury Air Regional Plan became official despite a plea from the South Canterbury Air Regional Plan Liaison Committee not to go ahead until a review of the National Environmental Standards was complete. 

In order to comply with the current National Environmental Standards, ECan has introduced a rule banning the use of woodburners 15-years-old or older in Timaru. 

The World Health Organisation last year said Timaru had the worst air quality in Australasia.

The World Health Organisation last year said Timaru had the worst air quality in Australasia.

Residents wanting to replace older burners with low emissionss burners have until October 31 to apply for building consent. That is also the date the plan becomes operative.

Liaison committee and national Grey Power president Tom O'Connor urged ECan not to pave the way for the plan on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was not surprised by the result. 

"It was too much to expect [ECan] to do anything else." 

* One last plea not to approve proposed air plan 
* Minister's pledge to amend clean air rule 

Environment Minister Nick Smith has pledged to try to introduce changes to the environmental standards and introduce standardised rules for councils around the country. 

A discussion paper would be put out about the standards before Christmas, Smith said on Tuesday. 

O'Connor said it was a matter of sitting tight and waiting for the review of the standards to be completed, which would hopefully happen before the next winter. 

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He noted Canterbury would have a fully-elected regional council in 2019. He hoped that would lead to better consultation with the public, and a less "high-handed" attitude.  

ECan councillor Peter Skelton introduced the air plan at the meeting, acknowledging that it had been a "hot topic" ever since it was first proposed in 2011. 

"[It was] no hotter than in South Canterbury, and in Ashburton, and in the city [Christchurch] here," he said. 

A World Health Organisation report last year said Timaru had the worst air quality in Australasia.

ECan chairman David Bedford, currently on a leave of absence, had worked "tirelessly" on the plan and had pushed for ultra-low emission burners, Skelton said. 

"He pushed the technology, he pushed the technologists, the industry, the scientists," Skelton said. 

"He could see that that was ultimately a way in which people could continue to burn wood for their warmth and their  comfort in their homes without polluting the atmosphere." 

ECan South Canterbury councillor Peter Scott acknowledged the science team and the other council staff, and said he felt the council was "on the right track". 

However the "push back" from some communities reflected that ECan still had work to do, the elected councillor said. 

In Timaru, the council was paradoxically trying to improve the health of lower socio-economic groups by telling them to replace their burners but was putting financial pressure on them too, Scott said. 

After the meeting Scott said he did not think the decision would have been any different had all the councillors been elected. The council had to work within the national standards.  

He was pleased the plan had been passed as it added some certainty, from the council's point of view, but ECan would continue to work with the air liaison committee and with Mayor Damon Odey to try to make sure residents were happy. 

Residents also have the option of replacing their woodburners with a heat pump, and subsidies of $5000 are available to people struggling financially, providing they meet income criteria. 

Skelton said the air plan was not perfect, but it was "a very good instrument". 

"It's been through a huge process and it's come out the other side in good form." 

The council has stood firm on the woodburner rule - however it has clarified people can retrofit their woodburners rather than replacing them, providing they obtain a resource consent first. 

 - The Timaru Herald


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