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8 Best practice air quality management

As noted above, the review shows that the majority of councils are working hard to implement the regulations. This section recognises councils that are at the top of their game with respect to air quality management. Three councils deserve national recognition for being innovative and/or the first to adopt best practice with respect to implementing the regulations. These are described briefly below.

Environment Canterbury and Nelson City Council “Clean Heat” schemes provide financial assistance to property owners retrofitting clean heating and insulation. This includes full subsidies for low-income households and partial subsidies or interest-free loans for middle-income households. (Similar schemes have since been implemented in Otago and Waikato.)

Tasman District Council has a regional rule requiring upgrades of non-complying solid-fuel burners when a property is sold. This highly innovative approach has a number of benefits, in that it:

  • privatises the cost of upgrade but, importantly, shifts the cost to a point in time when it is effectively minimised (ie, relative to the cost of the house)

  • provides an incentive for upgrades at any time so as to achieve a better purchase price

  • does not impose any actual cost on people (including the elderly) not looking to sell their house

  • has the potential to make a big impact on existing dirty burners within a relatively short timeframe because the average New Zealand home is sold every seven years.

Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council’s business-friendly Good Wood scheme involves firewood merchants guaranteeing their wood to be less than 25 per cent moisture in return for free promotion as a ‘good wood’ supplier by the council. The voluntary scheme has been running for over a year and is so successful the merchants are lobbying the council to make it mandatory.

8.1 Key features of successful programmes

The Ministry views the following aspects to be critical to successful implementation of the regulations, particularly in heavily polluted airsheds.

Equity and balance

It is important that rules be equitable (target all sources and sectors) and fair (not unduly high cost). This means that rules for home heating should address all types of burners, from gross polluters (eg, open fires and older existing burners) to brand new installations. To achieve this, both carrots and sticks (ie, incentives and rules) should be used. For example, rules coupled with education and assistance for low-income households could be phased in over extended periods of time, thereby targeting existing older burners in a fair way.

Options and choice

It is important when forcing or incentivising people towards clean heat that options and choice be kept to the fore. The Ministry's Warm Homes project took great care to encourage all New Zealanders to heat their homes cleanly, efficiently and sufficiently; ie, simply banning wood burners is not the answer. EECA funding reflects this by including the following options for retrofitting clean heat:

  • heat pumps

  • pellet fires

  • low-emission wood fires

  • flued gas heaters.

The exception to this approach is ‘closing the back door’ (discussed below).

Closing the back door

It makes no sense, in heavily over-allocated airsheds, to continue to permit new solid-fuel open fires. This is like the regulations closing the front door on new dirty wood burners but leaving the back door open for new solid-fuel open fires. As such, this is the one area where constrained choice is reasonable to achieve emission reductions. (As an aside, gas open fires may remain an option for the die-hard open fire enthusiast).

Key message about the health impacts of air pollution

It is important that the message regarding the health impacts of air pollution is kept to the fore. Intervention programmes and proposed plan changes that focus on the risks to existing industry create negative publicity that can distract from the driving force behind the regulations, which is the health of the population. Similarly, the view that central government is forcing local government to act only creates division and detracts from the real issues at stake.

Attitude

Finally, the Ministry notes the importance an individual can make to the successful implementation of the regulations (and, indeed to air quality management as a whole). Nelson City Council describes it best:

Staff have the ability to either make or break the regulations – it often comes down to attitude and trying to make it work. I’d like to see more willingness around the country to give the NES a chance to work. Staff can have a big influence on politicians and senior management through their advice, and if we are overly pessimistic that can get reflected in the political and management level. But if we are more proactive, and can-do, that instead can be reflected.

In this regard, Nelson City Council, Northland Regional Council and Tasman District Council staff stand out for their focus on the health drivers behind the regulations and their positive and innovative approaches to implementation.