Most-polluting wood burners could be banned in effort to improve UK air quality

Councils would get power to bring in "clean air zones" and "no-burn days" under new legislation

Emily Beament
Tuesday 22 May 2018 08:48 BST
Government announces plans to reduce number of people living in unsafe pollution areas

The government is planning to bring in tougher regulations on household wood burners and fires in a bit to cut UK air pollution.

New legislation will mean that only cleaner fuels and stoves will be sold for domestic heating, under the proposals being put out for consultation.

Councils will also be given new powers to bring in "clean air zones" by limiting what people can burn or bringing in "no-burn days".

The clean air strategy is intended to cut the cost of air pollution to society by £1bn a year by 2020, and by £2.5bn a year by 2030.

It also aims to halve the number of people living in areas where tiny particles known PM2.5 are above safe levels set by the World Health Organisation.

These tiny particles can be breathed into the lungs and get into the bloodstream, causing health problems including heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.

Officials say almost two-fifths of PM2.5 comes from domestic wood burners and open fires, which just 7.5 per cent of homes have.

The strategy also aims to tackle another part of the problem, ammonia from farming, by requiring farmers to invest in equipment and measures to reduce emissions from things such as slurry spread on fields.

Under the plans, farmers will get support to bring in the equipment through the new system of agricultural payments for delivering public benefits, which is being devised to replace European subsidies after Brexit.

But campaigners say more action is needed on other major sources of air pollution, in particular transport, to curb illegal levels of air pollution.

The government is being taken to court by the European Commission over its failure to meet legal limits for harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which should have been met by 2010, and has faced repeated legal action over the issue.

During a visit to Imperial College London to meet air quality researchers, environment secretary Michael Gove admitted the government had to "do better" on pollution and said it was important to tackle "all sources" of dirty air.

The latest strategy comes after government announcements on measures to tackle pollution from transport, including phasing out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

Mr Gove said: "It's critically important we make progress there, but it's also important we deal with other sources of air pollution, whether that's from slurry and manures spread on agricultural land or whether it's from wood burning or other ways people generate domestic fuel and power.

"I don't imagine many people will be aware of the way in which wood burning or the way in which agricultural pollution contributes to material in the air which doesn't just cause health problems, but limits life expectancy.

"For that reason I think it's important we act in all of these areas."

He added: "I don't think it's an either or, I think we need to deal with both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in our air, which affects human health and we need to tackle if the next generation are going to grow up healthy and we're going to have a healthy environment as well."

He said he did not think the government would be subject to a middle-class backlash over curbing wood burners, as everyone wanted the best for their children.

Under the plans, the government will also provide a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public, particularly vulnerable to air pollution, about the air quality forecast.

Alison Cook, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation, welcomed better monitoring and alerts for people, but warned: "Most importantly we can't lose focus on transport as a main culprit for air pollution."

Meeting the WHO pollution limits will require further action including a diesel scrappage scheme and investment into cleaner travel alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport, she said.


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