Borough-wide Smoke Control Area proposed to improve air quality and health for Sandwell residents
Published 14th October 2021
Councillors will be asked to approve plans for a public consultation on declaring the whole of Sandwell a single ‘Smoke Control Area’ (SCA).
A report on the proposal will be discussed at Sandwell Council's Cabinet meeting on 20 October 2021.
The aim is to improve the borough’s air quality and the health of Sandwell residents.
A borough-wide SCA would protect all neighbourhoods against harmful smoke emissions and ensure that all properties are subject to the same legal smoke control requirements.
If approved following consultation, the Director of Public Health would revoke Sandwell’s existing 51 separate SCAs and make a borough-wide Smoke Control Order, under the provisions of Section 18 of the Clean Air Act 1993.
Out of 72 local authorities found to have dangerous background concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in 2019, Sandwell and Leicester were the only two local authorities that had these exceedances outside of London and the South East of England.
PM2.5 concentrations and other toxic emissions are closely associated with domestic burning, and have a significant impact on human health. It can cause coughs, dizziness, inflamed airways and shortness of breath. It increases the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke, leading to early death. It can also impact pregnancy and the development of children’s lungs.
The use of open fires and solid-fuel burning stoves has risen in popularity over recent years, and properties in the borough can still legally burn unauthorised fuels (such as wood or coal) in non-exempted appliances.
The increasing use of these appliances, and their significant concentrations of PM2.5 in urban areas, has raised concerns about their impact on air quality. A 2020 government survey demonstrated that 68% of people who used indoor burners lived in urban areas in the UK, as opposed to 32% in rural areas. Reducing population exposure is key to reducing health impacts. The proposed new single SCA will address this inequality.
SCAs can help to reduce PM2.5 emissions by requiring the use of either authorised fuel or by using Defra ‘exempt appliances’, such as certain burners and stoves. Unauthorised fuel must not be used in a SCA unless it is used in an exempt appliance.
If the 'Intention to Declare' the whole borough a Smoke Control Area is approved by councillors, the council would publish a notice stating the council’s intentions, followed by a six-week advertising and consultation period. A report would then come back to Cabinet summarising the results and highlighting any legitimate objections to the notice before a decision to issue the Smoke Control Order is made.
The Smoke Control Order would not come into force for at least six months from the date of declaration, giving residents and businesses time to prepare.
Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell's Director of Public Health, said: “Air pollution is a key threat to the health of our population and a driver of health inequalities. Young children in particular face a greater risk to their health from PM2.5, which is strongly associated with domestic burning and is the largest source of ultrafine particulate matter in urban areas. Exposure to PM2.5 is shown to have both short and long-term impacts, including respiratory illnesses and impaired lung and cognitive development in children. By addressing air pollution we will reduce health inequalities and make Sandwell a cleaner and safer place to live.”
Councillor Suzanne Hartwell, Cabinet Member for Adults, Social Care and Health, said: “We know that concerns about poor air quality exist in Sandwell, and the council has a duty to assess air quality and, where necessary, take appropriate action to protect the health of those living and working in our towns. Air pollution is already impacting negatively on our economy and health – the ‘do nothing’ option will result in higher costs to the health and quality of life for those who live and work in Sandwell.”
Councillor Ahmad Bostan, Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “Although a Sandwell-wide SCA will not ban domestic solid fuel burning, it will require residents to take responsibility over the fuels they burn and to consider using exempt appliances. This proposal will contribute towards improving the overall health and resilience of our communities. All neighbourhoods in Sandwell would be afforded the same level of protection from the potentially harmful emissions created by the burning of solid fuels in domestic properties and businesses.”
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - SMOKE CONTROL AREAS
Q. What are the rules in a SCA?
A. You cannot emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using ‘exempt appliances’, such as specific burners or stoves. You must not buy unauthorised fuel for use in a SCA, unless it is to be used in an exempt appliance. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you break the rules. Visit the government website Smoke Control Area Rules for more information.
Q. What are authorised fuels?
A. Authorised fuels are fuels which are authorised by Statutory Instruments (Regulations) made under the Clean Air Act 1993. These include inherently smokeless fuels such as anthracite, semi-anthracite, gas, low volatile steam coal and specific brands of manufactured solid smokeless fuels. These fuels have passed tests to confirm that they can burn in an open fireplace without producing smoke. A list of fuels which are authorised for use in SCAs is available from Defra - Authorised Fuels.
Q. Where can I buy authorised fuel from?
A. New legislation called the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020 came into effect on 1 May 2021, which means that the sale of wood for domestic combustion in England must have the ‘Ready to Burn’ logo. This is the responsibility of the supplier, although there are a few exceptions. Authorised smokeless fuels are sold by some hardware shops, petrol filling stations and DIY stores and are clearly labelled 'ready to burn’.
Q. What can I burn in an open fire place?
A. You must not burn any wood on an open fire, although a small amount of kindling or timber wood can be used to light the fire. You can only burn fuel on the list of authorised fuels.
Q. Can I still use a barbecue, chimenea, fireplace or pizza oven with a SCA?
A. Yes. You can use outdoor barbecues, chimeneas, fireplaces or pizza ovens within a SCA, however if any of these appliances release smoke through a chimney of a building (such as a summerhouse) they can only burn authorised fuel or must be exempt appliances.
Q. Can I still use my non-exempt appliance?
A. Yes, but only with authorised fuels. The list of authorised fuels is available on Defra’s website, and have the ‘Ready to Burn’ logo.
Q. Are you banning all wood and coal burning stoves?
A. No. You can use your existing stove with the authorised fuel, or if you wish to purchase a new stove, choose an exempt appliance.
Q. Does a SCA apply to garden bonfires?
A. No. You are allowed garden bonfires in SCAs; however you must follow the government’s rules on bonfires. We do discourage people from having garden bonfires which can cause serious nuisance to neighbouring properties.
Q. What are the health impacts of wood/coal burning stoves and open fireplaces?
A. In the UK, the single biggest source of particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) is from domestic burning. We spend over 90% of our time indoors, and having a wood burning stove lit has a negative impact on indoor air quality. This makes it a significant risk to public health. Everyone is at risk from indoor air pollution, but you are more vulnerable if you have COPD, asthma or other lung conditions or are elderly or a child. Particulate matter air pollution can cause coughs, dizziness, inflamed airways and shortness of breath. It increases the risk of pneumonia, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and stroke, leading to early death. It can also impact pregnancy and the development of children’s lungs.
Q. I have or want to use a wood burning stove, how do I minimise indoor air pollution from it?
A. • Choose an energy efficient stove which is ‘Ecodesign Compliant’ more information about these types of stoves can be found at www.hetas.co.uk. These are energy efficient appliances that have been independently verified by HETAS, to help lower UK emissions and improve air quality.
• Use fuel labelled Ready to Burn for both wood and manufactured solid fuels.
• Ensure that you have it serviced and swept regularly – 40% of chimney fires take place between January and March.
• Follow manufacturer’s instructions for refuelling.
Q. I make/import/distribute appliances that burn unauthorised fuels in the SCA. What do I have to do?
A. You must apply for an exemption if you make, import or distribute appliances that will be used to burn unauthorised fuel in SCAs. An ‘appliance exemption’ shows that fuel-burning appliances – for example stoves, ovens, boilers etc – emit smoke below the acceptable limits. You do not need an exemption if the appliances are used with authorised fuels.
Q. Aren’t cars and lorries a more important source of particulate matter?
A. The main sources of PM2.5 in urban areas like Sandwell, are from domestic homes burning wood and coal – approximately 38%, while road transport makes up about 12% of PM2.5.
Q. What about smoke from homes in other local authorities in the West Midlands?
A. Other local neighbouring local authorities also have SCAs. All of Birmingham and Dudley are SCAs and so is most of Walsall.
Q. Will using authorised fuels cost me more money?
A. Authorised solid fuels are designed to be more efficient at burning so are cheaper than using coal. However, if you are concerned about the cost of heating your home as you are on a low income, there is help and advice available. Under the government’s ‘Affordable Warmth’ scheme you may be able to get financial help for energy-saving home improvements. For example, you live in social housing and your home has an energy efficiency rating of E, F or G, you may also be able to get help with insulation or installing a heating system for the first time. If you're not sure what efficiency rating your home has, check its energy performance certificate. Alternatively, ask your landlord or housing association.
For more information on these schemes, and full eligibility criteria, go to the website Simple Energy Advice UK or Tel: 0800 444202.
It’s also worth checking if you qualify for the government’s Warm Home Discount, a £140 annual credit paid to your energy account. Find out if you’re eligible at the website Warm Home Discount Scheme.
As a part of the Smoke Control Area rules, any existing appliances can be used, just with authorised fuels, so no appliances will be required to change incurring cost. Information regarding options for energy related financial difficulties is accessible through Citizen’s Advice. For those who are struggling with energy debts, grants are available through the British Gas Energy Trust, EDF Energy Trust, E.on Energy Fund and more. Ofgem also offer advice about schemes that offer financial help to those most in need, including the Winter Fuel Payment, Cold Weather Payment and Warm Home Discount.
Healthy Sandwell will be a response point for the Smoke Control Area consultation and they will be able to give a wide variety of support to residents – both around wellbeing and finance.
How will people be signposted to information about exemptions?
Information about applications for exemptions will be provided in conjunction with information about the rules of Smoke Control Areas and health risks of burning solid fuels domestically.
All information regarding the rules on Smoke Control Areas will be available on our air quality webpage
Healthy Sandwell will be a response point for the Smoke Control Area consultation, including information regarding exemptions.
Q. I use or want to use a wood burner/biomass boiler in my business, is that allowed in a SCA?
A. All commercial biomass boilers that burn wood and coal in a SCA need to be Defra exempt appliances. A list of exempt appliances can be found on the Defra Exempt Appliances website. All commercial biomass boiler manufacturers are required to meet Defra exemption requirements under the Clean Air Act 1993. More information on specific requirements is provided at environmental protection.org.uk but if you require more advice about your installation or want to check if your boiler is compliant, please contact email@example.com
Q. I want to set up a restaurant with a log-burning oven, can I do this?
A. If you wish to install a log-burning pizza oven in your food business, then there are some solid fuel pizza ovens included in the list of exempted appliances that you may use. As well as authorised fuels, the list of exempted appliances can be found on the government's Defra Smoke Control website
Please remember that any appliance giving off cooking fumes must be properly ventilated to outside air. This will require adequate ventilation which doesn’t cause a nuisance to neighbours and filtered mechanical extract ventilation with an outlet at high level.