Crackdown on wood-burning stoves and open fires may lead to a 'black market'

The Government has announced plans to end the sale of wet wood - Getty Images Fee

Ministers have admitted that plans for a crackdown on pollution created by open fires and wood burning stoves could lead to an effective "black market" in wet wood.

The Government yesterday announced plans to end the sale of wet wood amid concerns that it is largest single contributor to particulate matter pollution, which has been identified as the most damaging air pollutant.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, domestic burning contributes 38 per cent of particulate matter pollution, compared to 16 per cent from industrial combustion and only 12 per cent from road transport. Ministers therefore propose to ensure that, in future, only the cleanest fuels are available for sale.

At the same time, the Government aims to ensure only the cleanest-burning stoves are available for sale by 2022. However dry wood is significantly more expensive. According to Defra a cubic metre of wet wood costs £84, while the same amount of dry wood costs £140.

While wet wood generates significantly less heat than dry wood because of the high water content, Defra still estimates that it will cost the 2.5million households with open fires and wood burning stoves £423million over the next decade.

In an official impact assessment, the Government said: "Introducing the regulation will result in consumers either switching to dry wood (which is more expensive) or turning to informal routes to source their fuel. Price sensitive consumers who are not willing to pay the price increase we assume will source their fuel from the informal market."

"We assume full compliance with the regulation for coal given the limited number of fuel suppliers, but a lower compliance rate of 40 per cent in 2020 rising to 60 per cent by 2023 for wood given the high number of small suppliers which will make it harder to enforce."

Wood-burning stoves: What do the new rules mean for your heater?

Therese Coffey, the Environment minister, said: "Everyone has a role to play in improving the air we breathe, and reducing pollution from burning at home is a key area where we can all take action.

"While we will never be able to eliminate all particulate matter, by switching to cleaner fuels, householders can reduce the amount of harmful pollution to which they unwittingly expose themselves, their families and the environment, while still enjoying the warmth and pleasure of a fire."

The consultation follows a speech by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in May in which he outlined how reform to the rules governing domestic fuel would "cut pollution and save lives".

Speaking at the time he said: "With the world getting wealthier, and technology getting cleaner, it is unacceptable that poor air quality is cutting lives short, damaging children's health and poisoning our natural environment."

Councils are already able to designate smoke control areas where it is illegal to allow smoke emissions from the chimney of your home, and you can only burn authorised fuels or use appliances which have been exempted for use in the area. People who break the rules face a fine of up to £1,000. But local authorities say people are not very aware of and often do not comply with the rules, and smoke control areas can be hard to enforce.

The UK's natural capital stands at £761bn

So part of the strategy, ministers say, is to raise awareness of the link between air pollution and domestic wood burning and help people make better choices.

The consultation, which runs until October 12, follows an earlier intervention by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who last year called on the Government to grant him extra powers to improve air quality in the capital. Mr Khan wants to introduce a network of "zero-emission zones" where the burning of wood or coal is completely prohibited. He also called for tougher controls on the sale of wood-burning stoves. Under the mayor's  proposals only low-emission versions of wood-burning stoves would be allowed to remain on the market.