‘A serious threat’: calls grow for urgent review of England’s wood-burning stoves

<span>Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

Politicians and campaigners have called for an urgent review of wood-burning stoves, which cause large amounts of pollution in urban areas.

The calls follow the admission by the environment secretary that the government had set weaker air pollution targets than it would like. The admission came as she announced a new environmental plan for England that held back from banning wood-burning stoves and settled instead for “educating” people on their use.

The Times subsequently reported that the government would encourage councils to use their powers to issue householders £300 on-the-spot fines for flouting air pollution rules by burning logs at home.

But the Green party co-leader Carla Denyer said the government should go further and potentially end the sale of log burners.

She said: “Local authorities have powers to create smoke control areas in cities under the Environment Act 2021. This goes some way to preventing homeowners and businesses releasing smoke from a chimney. However, there are exemptions for particular stoves and fuels which still mean dangerous particulates can be released into the atmosphere.

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“We need an urgent review into the impacts of smoke from chimneys on public health in high-density housing areas, with a view to putting an end to future sales of log burners and fuels if they are shown to have an unacceptable detrimental impact.”

The environment charity ClientEarth, which has won pollution cases against the government, has said the burners need to be phased out. Andrea Lee, from the charity, said: “Pollution from wood-burning is a growing source of fine particulate matter pollution in some areas, which is a serious threat to people’s health.”

The Liberal Democrats have called for more powers for local councils to stop the use of polluting burners. A spokesperson said they were disappointed that it had taken so long for the ban on house coal and wet wood to come through.

“The new eco-design has reduced air pollution from wood burners but more needs to be done including encouraging households to replace older wood burners with the new design. We believe local authorities should have more powers to tackle air pollution in their areas,” the spokesperson said.

Under the 2021 Environment Act, councils have powers to issue on-the-spot civil penalties of up to £300. The government’s plans to encourage councils to take action mean that criminal prosecutions could be pursued for the most persistent offenders, resulting in a fine of up to £5,000 plus a further £2,500 for each day a breach continues afterwards.

However, English councils have issued only 17 fines over six years, despite more than 18,000 complaints, as it is difficult and expensive to prove guilt and then take people to court. Few councils have the resources to vigorously pursue this specific issue.

There will also be tighter regulation of new wood burners, which in designated “smoke control areas” will be allowed to produce no more than 3g of smoke per hour, instead of 5g at present.

Sarah MacFadyen, the head of Policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “We know that burning wood and coal releases fine particulate matter – the most worrying form of air pollution for human health – which can cause people with a lung condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to have a potentially life-threatening attack or flare-up.

“It’s therefore important to consider less polluting fuel options to heat your home or cook with, especially if coal or wood is not your primary fuel source.”