ORC debates failure to meet air quality targets

Rather than lobbying the Government to relax air pollution standards, the Otago Regional Council should seek the reinstatement of more substantial subsidies for insulation and clean heating options, Cr Gretchen Robertson says.

Otago towns have not met regional air quality targets and are unlikely to meet national standards triggering an Otago Regional Council review of its air quality management strategy.

Councillors agreed at a technical committee meeting yesterday it was always going to be a ''tough ask'' to meet regional standards set in 2006, and even national standards relaxed last year.

Cr Brian Scott said the report presented to the committee showed the council had no choice but to change tack and do something different.

Cr Doug Brown said an approach to the Government might be needed given the difficulties Otago faced because of the climate and topography of Central Otago.

Cr Robertson said given the health risks air pollution posed and that many of the towns affected were ''iconic'' places where the ''pure'' tourism approach applied, if the council was to go to the Government it needed to be for the reinstatement of subsidies.

''We need to show they have been effective and have made a big difference.''

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said Otago was not on its own when it came to struggling to meet national air quality targets and the chief executives of South Island regional councils were looking at the issue as a South Island problem.

Without huge subsidies, changing people's behaviour was always going to happen slowly and incrementally, he said.

Tolerance of air emissions was decreasing, which was reflected in the number of complaints the council regularly received.

The report was a ''reality check'' and the review was timely. It needed to cover issues such as funding, goals and new time frames, he said.

Cr Trevor Kempton said the biggest issue the region faced was not being able to control the quality of fuel being burnt, as it did not matter how compliant a log burner was if dry fuel was not used.

Cr Graeme Bell said the council had to present the report to the community boards and councils of the affected areas and get their support for any approach to the Government.

Cr Gerry Eckhoff said people were more worried about keeping warm using an affordable heat source than air pollution.

The council continued to offer subsidies in high pollution areas but at a reduced level since funding from the Environment Ministry ended last July.

A council workshop would be held in April to further discuss the issues.

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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