Only three penalties have been given out by English local governments due to stricter regulations on wood burning.
According to data, only one person has been prosecuted and three individuals have received fines for using prohibited wood-burning stoves in England.
Since January 2022, there have been over 10,000 reports of wood burning in densely populated areas. However, local councils have not been enforcing the government’s recently implemented strict regulations on the use of stoves. Out of these complaints, two-thirds were not investigated further and only a small number resulted in any form of reprimand.
Cities with high levels of particle pollution must limit the burning of wood to prevent further release of particles into the air. Particle pollution has been linked to higher rates of death from conditions such as heart and lung diseases, as well as lung cancer.
The air pollution in England leads to approximately 26,000 to 38,000 premature deaths each year and is also associated with various health issues such as dementia and depression. In the UK, wood burning has surpassed traffic as one of the top contributors to the most harmful particles, specifically PM2.5. According to the Times, emissions of PM2.5 from wood burning have risen by 35% from 2010 to 2020.
In areas with restrictions on smoke, households are only allowed to use appliances that have undergone thorough testing to ensure minimal smoke emissions when burning unauthorized fuels, such as wood. Violators may face fines of up to £300 and potential criminal charges under the Environment Act 2021, which could result in fines of up to £5,000.
Roughly 8% of individuals in the UK use solid-fuels for heating inside their homes, leading to a notable portion of pollution. The majority (two-thirds) of these individuals reside in urban locations, where the effects of air pollution are most severe, and almost all of them have alternative methods of heating.
A study conducted by the organization Mums for Lungs revealed that 80 local governments have not implemented the new powers, while 47 councils stated that the measures do not pertain to them.
In January, the government made a commitment to pass a law following the release of the Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) 2023, which would reduce the emissions limit for wood burning stoves from 5g of smoke per hour to 3g.
In August, the government softened its stance by revising the air quality strategy framework for local authorities. This revised version stepped back from the EIP language and indicated that ministers would consider enhancing the impact of smoke-control areas. The government also plans to seek feedback on possibly lowering the limit.
Jemima Hartshorn, the creator of Mums for Lungs, stated that the government boasts about having top-notch laws to combat air pollution, however, our study reveals that these laws are not effective. Numerous individuals are losing their lives due to respiratory diseases and many complaints have been filed, yet no measures are being taken to improve the air quality. People are struggling to breathe, but are being met with indifference.
Her team has contacted the Office for Environmental Protection, requesting that they look into the ineffectiveness of these laws in reducing harm to public health.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been reached out to for a response.