Wirral Council eyes wood burner restrictions to combat air pollution

Wirral Council is looking to bring in a blanket restriction for what people can put in their wood burners.

At a tourism, communities, culture, and leisure committee on 7 March, councillors are being asked to revoke 30 orders currently in place that restrict what and how people burn fuel in their homes and bring in a borough wide policy.

This would mean parts of Bebington and Clatterbridge which currently don’t have restrictions would be brought under the new policy.

Some of the smoke orders have been in place since 1958 and were brought in to tackle air pollution issues caused by smoke.

A council report brought to the committee said a borough-wide policy would provide clarity given some orders have exemptions for buildings or fireplaces that no longer exist and were rolled out “in a fragmented and piecemeal fashion.”

Deaths in England linked to air pollution are estimated to be between 26,000 and 38,000 each year and while air quality in Wirral does not exceed legal limits, a committee report said, “No safe level of exposure to air pollution has been identified, below which there are no negative health effects.” 4.9% of all deaths in Wirral are attributable to air pollution which is below the regional and national average.

Smoke control orders were first brought in due to the large number of deaths attributed to air pollution and smog, a fog caused by smoke, in 1952. However since then, solid fuel has shifted from coal to wood which has led to an increase of small particulates linked to “an increase in associated illnesses, such as the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke, leading to early death.”

Wirral has had no reduction in particulate matter pollution in the last five years but has a target to reduce this by 35% in 2040. The council said the new policy would provide clarity for people and make it easier to enforce rules but stressed the restriction is not a ban on wood and coal burning stoves as well as garden bonfires.

A council report also outlined the rules that would be put in place. It said, “You cannot emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using ‘exempt appliances’, for example specific burners or stoves. You must not buy an unauthorised fuel for use in a smoke control area, unless it is to be used in an exempt appliance. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you break the rules.”

Authorised materials you can burn under the restrictions include “inherently smokeless fuels such as anthracite, semianthracite, gas, low volatile steam coal and specific brands of manufactured solid smokeless fuels. These fuels have passed tests to confirm that they can burn in an open fireplace without producing smoke.”

In November 2023, Wirral Council launched a campaign to raise awareness about what people are allowed to burn inside their homes. At the time, Wirral’s environment committee chair Cllr Liz Grey said, “Much more is known about the impact of poor air quality on people’s health. It affects us all but mostly, it affects our most vulnerable – those who are already poorly, pregnant women, older people and children.

“If local people do want, or need, to use fires in their homes, burning better will not only help their health, but their family’s and everyone in Wirral.”

The new plans are subject to public consultation if approved on 7 March.

Image credit: Seiya Maeda

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