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Alexandra, Arrowtown, Cromwell, Clyde and Milton have air quality that is considered degraded during winter.
Better housing stock, and properly insulated homes, is seen as a big part of the answer, as well as phasing in much more efficient heating and encouraging people to use dry wood in their fires.
Otago regional councillors considered yesterday what they could do to help clear the air.
Both national and regional policies were on the planning and strategy committee agenda, as well as a 2019 case study of a concentrated effort to make a difference in Arrowtown.
Councillors are yet to thrash out to what extent improving air quality is a priority and how much money they are prepared to budget for it.
Solutions are also somewhat out of their hands, because better housing is mostly central government’s concern.
Councillors were shown, however, the effectiveness of a programme in Canterbury. That scheme comes with a price tag of about $20million over 10 years.
Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner said relatively small inroads had been made in Otago and the council would need to work out what level of spending might be needed if councillors were keen to make a more serious impression.
Southern District Health Board health promotion adviser Danielle Smith said Central Otago towns had some of the worst air quality in the country and it was "far too harmful for health".
Activities in Arrowtown last year included what a report described as encouraging ‘‘better burning behaviour’’ and the replacement of older heating appliances.
The campaign included social media posts, a video, advertising and a brochure on good burning practices delivered to every house.
Moisture meters were sold at community events to promote burning dry wood.
The programme was considered to have worked well for Arrowtown but getting strong results in other towns might be more difficult if wealth is a barrier.
The council might need to do more to meet national air quality standards, which are being revised.
In considering a council submission on national policy, deputy chairman Michael Laws said the region’s cooler climate needed to be borne in mind.
He was wary of Otago residents carrying too much of the financial burden and also suggested the Government had indicated some willingness to subsidise electricity usage during its response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The Government doubled the winter energy payment for 2020 in response to Covid-19.