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Consultation due in 2013 on Clean Air Act changes

A government consultation on air quality measures is to be be carried out next year as part of a review into the Clean Air Act 1993, writes Caelia Quinault.

A target date for a consultation paper on the Clean Air Act 1993 has been given by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The date is almost a year away – May 2013 – and will see the department publishing a formal consultation paper, setting out the options, followed later by a second consultation containing detailed proposals.

There has been little improvement in air quality in the UK in recent years

The Clean Air Act 1993 gives powers to local councils to control domestic and industrial smoke to improve local air quality and meet EU air quality standards for sulphur dioxide and particulates. It enables local councils to create ‘smoke control areas’ and order the use of cleaner fuels in these areas. The current Act has its origins in Acts introduced in 1956 and 1968.

The Act

Measures contained in the current Clean Air Act include:

  • prohibits emissions of smoke within smoke control areas, unless using an exempted appliance or an authorised fuel  – see http://smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/ for details
  • prohibits emissions of dark smoke from any chimney, or from industrial or trade premises, subject to certain exemptions
  • requires approval of many commercial furnaces to ensure they don’t emit too much smoke, grit and dust
  • requires approval of many furnace chimneys to ensure they are high enough to disperse any residual emissions
  • prohibits cable burning except under an environmental permit.

The Clean Air Act is being reviewed in accordance with the government’s Red Tape Challenge because it is considered out-of-date and in need of streamlining. It is also thought that the Act will become more important as the UK moves to burn more biomass to generate heat.

An initial scoping paper about the review, published in March 2012, revealed that one of the concerns over the existing Act is that there are too many ‘opt outs’ from provisions which prohibit emissions of dark smoke.

wood burning stoves

As part of its review, the department said it was planning to revise the procedures for getting approval for exempt appliances such as ovens, wood burning stoves and fireplaces and also fuels in smoke control areas.

At present, fuels which can be burnt without producing smoke in an open fire and appliances which have past tests showing that they can burn fuels without emitting smoke have to be tested and be exempted through statutory instruments. Defra is proposing that a new system of self-certification be introduced.

It said: “The standards that apply under the new system will be set out in the new regulations and will basically the same as used by [Defra’s air quality partner and consultancy] AEA now.

“However, instead of listing each fireplace and fuel in Regulations or an Order, we plan to enable suitably qualified test houses to certify compliance with the standards. We intend that such ‘self-certification’ will be used instead of having to obtain Defra approval via AEA.â€?

Enquiries about the Clean Air Act can be made to Graham Lott at Defra, email: control.pollution@defra.gsi.gov.uk

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