Report of the Director - Neighbourhoods
The Director for Neighbourhoods presented the Smoke Controls Areas report and said that it provided opportunity for Members to input and shape a public consultation on revised smoke control orders within the Borough.
The Environmental Health Officer explained that smoke control areas were first introduced as part of the 1956 Clean Air Act and that Rushcliffe had had smoke control areas in place since the 1970s. She said that whilst legislation had had an impact on air quality, it continued to pose the biggest environmental risk to public health. She said that it contributed to a wide range of detrimental health and neurological impacts, with the Chief Medical Officer stating in 2022 that the mortality burden of air pollution within England stood at between 26,000 and 38,000 lives per year.
The Environmental Health Officer said that evidence suggested that the main contributor to health impact was associated with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and that in 2021 domestic combustion contributed approximately 27% of PM2.5 emissions.
The Environmental Health Officer referred to the Government Clean Air Strategy which set out the framework for local authorities to improve air quality, including through review of smoke control areas. She explained that the Council had signed up to the Nottinghamshire Clean Air Strategy and also had its own Clean Air Strategy Action Plan.
Within a smoke control area, the Environmental Health Officer said that a number of rules applied, such as that smoke could not be released from a chimney and that only authorised fuel could be burned and only a Defra approved appliance could be used. She said the guidance applied to chimneys of buildings and under roofs and to furnaces, with the potential to include permanent moored vessels. She said that a list of all approved appliances and fuels was published on the Defra website.
Whilst previously it had been hard to enforce control of smoke release from chimneys, the Environmental Health Officer said that the Government had enabled local authorities to introduce their own civil penalties and Defra recommended a staged process, with the initial action being to serve an improvement notice, the next stage being to serve notice of intent to issue a financial penalty, with the final action being to issue a penalty, which a local authority could set at between £175-£300.
The Environmental Health Officer said that it was for each local authority to determine what constituted smoke from a chimney and that the Council wanted to take a proportional approach, recognising that smoke could be emitted for example when lighting and refuelling a fire. She said that it was illegal to sell or buy unauthorised fuel within a smoke control area unless for use on a Defra approved appliance and as such retailers would need to display notice to this effect.
The Environmental Health Officer said that there was a legal requirement for the Council to undertake a public consultation exercise before making a smoke control order.
The Environmental Health Officer recommended checking the Defra website for the list of Defra approved stoves and fuels and confirmed that authorised fuels could continue to be burnt on approved stove appliances. She confirmed that it would not apply to bonfire night fires.
In relation the consultation process, the Director for Neighbourhoods explained that there were a number of other local authorities within Nottinghamshire going out for consultation on smoke areas, some with a recommendation for district wide schemes. He said that this scrutiny review was for the Council to receive a steer from the Group, which could be included in the consultation information and that a recommendation would then be taken Cabinet as the decision making body. He said that the public consultation would likely conclude by the end of the year, with a proposal to Cabinet early 2024, and that implementation timelines could be included as part of the recommendation.
The Chair referred to the businesses selling appliances and fuels, both within and outside of the Borough. The Environmental Health Officer said that Trading Standards would manage retail activity and would liaise with affected suppliers. She said that it would be an offense for a person to sell fuel such as wood in a smoke control area unless they had reason to believe that it was for use on a Defra approved appliance.
In relation to enforcement of smoke control measures, the Environmental Health Officer said that previously there had been limits on what could be done but that there was now a push to increase public awareness and controls.
The Chair asked Members of the Group to vote on which of the four options they would prefer and the Group voted unanimously in favour of Option D.
It was RESOLVED that the Communities Scrutiny Group:
a) considers on the options provided for smoke control areas within the Borough
b) indicates a preferred option enabling public consultation to take place
c) recommends its preferred option to Cabinet for adoption.