Controversial Timaru log burner ban begins

2:10 pm on 1 November 2017

A retailer is warning of widespread disobedience as a controversial log burner ban begins in Timaru.

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The Canterbury Air Plan comes into force today in a bid to tackle air pollution, and includes a ban in Timaru on log burners more than 15 years old.

This has faced strong push-back from residents, who say the council have rushed the ban and not thought it through.

Timaru resident Ron Heany has followed the council's rules and installed a new log burner.

Mr Heany, 70, paid $3900 for a new low-emission burner that was recommended by the council, to replace his 35-year-old burner that he never had any trouble with.

But when Mr Heany's new burner was installed, there were immediate problems.

"Since we've had it, it's had four modifications to it," he said.

"A wind tube to stop the thing from screaming, it sounded like someone was being murdered, the baffle has been replaced twice ... as soon as we lit the fire, smoke came out of the door ... and escaped into the room.

"We were sucking in PM10."

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Ron Heany said he regretted getting rid of his old wood burner. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

PM10 is a harmful pollutant from chimney smoke, and often reaches very high levels during winter.

The problems with Mr Heany's burner have since been resolved, but he said he regretted swapping out his old burner.

"It was suggested by [the council] that because that heater was over 35 years old, and anything over 15 years was deemed useless and redundant, we thought best to change it.

"I now know we know better ... there was nothing wrong with it, it was absolutely perfect."

Log burners were considered an essential survival item for many in Timaru, after power was knocked out during a freezing snowstorm in 2006.

The council's move to low and ultra low emission burners came after the World Health Organisation found in 2014 that Timaru had the worst air pollution in the country.

Timaru Plumbing and Gas has been selling three low emission burners a week ahead of the ban.

But its owner, Ady Atkinson, said he had noticed a major difference with a supposedly more efficient type of burner - an ultra-low emission burner.

Mr Atkinson said he had found they used a lot more wood than a traditional log burner.

"What we tended to observe is that in the ultra-low emission burner the firebox is physically smaller and therefore required refuelling more frequently," he said.

"I'm a bit surprised as a retailer, we have installed one in our showroom, and we have installed one for a customer, and we were a bit disappointed."

Mr Atkinson said he expected a lot of dissent in the community.

"[The council] are almost inviting civil disobedience ... they are putting people into awkward positions especially when you meet widows in their 80s who we will kill from stress before they die of PM10 inhalation."

A spokesperson for a residents' committee opposed to the ban, Les Rawlings, said signing up to the waiver would alert the council that the household had a banned burner, and would make it easier for the council to pressure them to change it when the waiver expired in a year's time.

But a council spokesperson said the waiver was designed to help vulnerable people in Timaru, not target households who had not replaced their old burners.

"People who are likely to receive a temporary waiver include those who are unwell, elderly or facing very difficult circumstances," the spokesperson said.

"Those who have a temporary waiver will need to work with us towards upgrading to a compliant woodburner or other heating source before the completion of their agreement."

The council would continue its programme of locating houses where visible smoke was emitted and educating householders.

The Canterbury Regional Council did not deny that modern burners use more wood than traditional log burners.

But its Timaru operations manager, Judith Earl-Goulet, said the ban was the best way to tackle air pollution.

The council is offering subsidies and a one-year waiver for people who could not afford to replace their burner, or for those who could not replace it before the ban began.

Ms Earl-Goulet said the council wanted to ensure everyone stayed warm in the coming winter.

"It has really concerned me this year to see the level of angst that has been in our community.

"I don't like the thought of anyone being fearful in their home of lighting their fire and staying cold."

Ms Earl-Goulet said if Timaru residents were still worried about the ban, it was not too late to get in touch to discuss their options.

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