Proposals fire up townsfolk

Tracy Hicks.
Tracy Hicks.
Gore residents are worried about the cost of clean air.

District Mayor Tracy Hicks said proposed changes to how Southlanders could heat their homes could leave some of the town's residents vulnerable in cold weather.

He described the timelines for improving Gore's air quality imposed by Environment Southland as ''draconian''.

The proposed rules had resulted in a flood of inquiries to him, especially from the town's elderly constituents.

''It seems to be the only thing anybody wants to talk about at the moment,'' he said.

The regional air quality plan, the council's attempt to have Southland comply with national standards, was notified on September 6.

Mr Hicks said he had spoken to ''many older people who have concerns around whether they comply or not'' and if they didn't, what it would cost and how they would manage.

Under the proposed rules, burning high-sulphur coal and wet wood to heat homes would be banned across Southland from January 1.

And in Gore and Invercargill, open fires and non-approved burners or boilers would be phased out.

Coal mined at Kaitangata would be banned.

Using open fires would be prohibited from September 1 next year and the use of any non-approved burner or boiler installed before January 1, 2001 would be prohibited from January 1, 2016 under the new rules.

Invercargill has continued to suffer relatively poor air quality, exceeding National Environmental Standards 13 times this year, including four times in one week this winter and reaching a two-year high on July 12, but Gore has only recorded one high pollution day this year to date.

Mr Hicks questioned some of the conditions set out in Environment Southland's proposed new air quality rules.

''If we're actually complying, then why do we need to do be doing it so quickly?''

Environment Southland resource planner Jason Domigan said Gore had not complied with the national standards.

Under the standards, the town could would not comply until it had had one or no high pollution days for five consecutive years.

''The last two years when considered in isolation, show a decreasing trend but it also reflects the climatic conditions over the past two years. The winters of 2013 and 2014 have been relatively mild.

"Only four years ago we recorded the highest levels to date in both Invercargill (35 exceedances) and Gore (11). Gore generally sits between two and six exceedances per year.''

The regional council, tasked with implementing the national standards, received 12 submissions on the proposed new rules last week.

Mr Domigan noted the general concerns raised through the submissions were the time to comply with the phasing out of non-approved appliances, the financial implications of replacing the appliances, the financial implications of prohibiting cheaper high sulphur coal and questions about what financial support would be made available to help people change to approved appliances.

Mr Hicks said while many Gore residents were fearful about the proposed changes, others supported the new rules.

''To be honest, I'm not in total disagreement with the objective Environment Southland are working towards. It's about how you get there and how long it takes.''

Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay said the submissions process was ''the best possible avenue to elevate any concerns members of the community may have''.

Submissions close on November 3.

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