London has long had a problem with air quality. When current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was mayor, a report was delayed which highlighted the problem that many in the Big Smoke face. Now, current mayor, Sadiq Kahn, is proposing getting rid of fireplaces and wood burning or at least restricting its use to help improve things.
The mayor is not looking for a blanket ban but may try to get in legislation that limits wood burning stoves in specific areas of the busy capital. The problem is, however, that around one and a half million homes use these to heat their homes and there could be some considerable resistance if the legislation is to go through.
There’s also been a trend in recent years to create traditional, rustic fireplaces, particularly in older homes. The fact that wood burning produces a great deal of pollution doesn’t seem to be as important to many people as the cosy feel of a fire or the fact that it could add value to their home. They’ve also been sold on the idea that it’s carbon neutral. The mayor’s office counters that over a quarter of the pollution in London comes from people heating their properties by wood burning.
According to the Telegraph recently:
“Research by King’s College London found that the practice contributed half the toxic emissions in some areas of London during a period of high pollution in January. The government has come under increasing pressure to improve the UK’s air quality, with air pollution causing 9,500 early deaths a year in London and 40,000 across Britain.”
The World Health Organisation itself suggests that the maximum level of small particulate matter pollution, the kind caused by wood burning, should be 20 μg/m3. In London it’s 22, but the city is by no means the worst. Port Talbot sits at 25 20 μg/m3 and Glasgow is 23 20 μg/m3.
Alerts for high level pollution have been issued as many as 7 times in the last thirteen months and it continues to be a major problem for the Capital. Such was the furore when Sadiq Khan announced the proposed policy, that the Mayor’s Office later had to issue a clarification to say that the ban wouldn’t impact on home owners. There may be times when the air quality is at its worse that people will have to refrain from wood burning but it’s not the blanket ban that was first suggested.
While there was plenty of push back on the policy, especially from the media, green advocates welcomed the change. There has also, however, been plenty of questions about how the ban would be enforced. There is already a Clean Air Act that is largely unenforced even though there’s the opportunity to impose fines of up to £1,000. In the meantime, wood burning stoves are on the increase in the UK, not just in London.
The fact is that wood burning stoves are also supposed to be carbon neutral, something that the Government is trying to promote to lower our overall carbon footprint. Because you are burning wood, it tends to produce as much CO2 as the material would have absorbed while growing in the wild. What people may find, however, in areas like London where there are problems, the issue of pollution is going to have to take precedence. You might like to think about that before you decide to have wood burning stove installed in your area.
If you are unsure, then check the website UK Smoke Control Areas to see if restrictions apply in your area.