The onset of winter has brought to a head debate on wood burner use in Christchurch. People living in damaged homes must be able to stay warm even if their wood burner doesn’t meet Environment Canterbury’s Air Plan rules. It’s also important that we don’t unwind the gains of recent years and have Christchurch return to being smog city.
Clean air is vital for our health and well-being, the city’s amenity, for attracting visitors, and to avoid premature deaths and respiratory problems among older citizens and those with respiratory complaints.
Christchurch used to have the poorest air quality in New Zealand. One of ECan’s major achievements pre-quakes was cleaning up winter time air quality. The number of winter days when air pollution in the city exceeded the World Health Organisation standard was reduced from 60 in 1999 to 16 in 2010. Last year, post-quakes, Christchurch had 35 high pollution days.
ECan’s Air Plan rules which prohibit wood burners and open fires in new homes were developed with considerable public input over many years. Loosening the rules to allow wood burners in new homes risks Christchurch returning to the days when it was too smoggy to be outside on winter nights.
New ultra low-emission wood burners are being developed. It would be better to wait until these are proven before considering any rule changes.
Residents have also invested more than $46 million in cleaning up Christchurch’s air through ECan’s previous Clean Heat scheme and its insulation and heating subsidies (before the ECan Commissioners wound it back), as well as through EECA subsidies to replace wood burners and open fires. That investment in clear air needs to be protected.
One way Christchurch homes can be warmer and drier without sacrificing the major improvements in winter time air quality is to sort out the current shambles over retrofitting insulation when earthquake damaged homes are repaired.