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Defra seeks centralised UK Smoke Control Area map

Clean Air Act consultation responses highlight need to improve domestic stove emissions and information on Smoke Control Area mapping

A number of provisions in the Clean Air Act 1993 to reduce smoke emissions are rarely used by local authorities, according to a summary of responses to a government consultation on amending the legislation.

However, respondents did highlight the need for improvements to limit emissions from domestic stoves, as the emphasis for manufacturers in recent years has been on improving stove efficiency.

Defra intends to amend the Clean Air Act 1993, which limits smoke emissions from chimneys

Defra intends to amend the Clean Air Act 1993, which limits smoke emissions from chimneys

Defra referred to one particular response, which stated that for domestic stoves it ‘is emission levels that actually require the attention; a very efficient unit can actually have quite high emission levels’.

Some respondents also highlighted issues with the availability of full and accurate data on Smoke Control Area maps, and Defra said it was now engaged in a pilot project to develop a tool that will enable local authorities to digitise these maps.

This, Defra said, would help it to assess the feasibility of creating a centralised UK map, plans for which were supported by the majority of respondents. Some responses also suggested that Smoke Control Areas should be aligned with Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs).

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act (CAA) 1993, which has roots in legislation that is now almost 60 years old, 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 particulate matter.

It also enables local councils to create Smoke Control Areas and order the use of cleaner fuels in these areas.

The consultation on amending the legislation took place between September and October last year (see airqualitynews.com story) after Defra announced plans in June 2012 to review the Act as part of its Red Tape Challenge to remove legislation that it ‘unnecessary or not working’.

Prior to the consultation, Defra published a report carried out by consultants Ricardo-AEA which suggested that removing the Act could lead to an increase in particulate matter emissions unless new legislation was introduced (see airqualitynews.com story).

The Act is now being amended via the Deregulation Bill, which is currently being debated in parliament. According to Defra, the amendment will “streamline and speed up the process for approving products for use in the Smoke Control Areas.”
Underused provisions

According to Defra, the majority of respondents indicated that provisions to limit grit and dust from non-domestic furnaces were rarely used, with some support for introducing specific particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) limits instead of the current “unclear” stipulations for commercial furnaces to conduct a ‘smokeless operation’.

In addition, Defra highlighted legislation proposed by the EU, such as the EcoDesign Regulations and the Medium Combustion Plant Directive, which could have an impact on the “vast majority of plants controlled by the Act”.

Aside from powers to set motor fuel composition and sulphur content of oil, provisions in the Act relating to cable burning, railways engines and water vessels were also found to be little used and have a low impact on air quality.

However, despite being rarely used, most responses argued that the cable burning provision was an “effective tool” which they recommended retaining.

Consultation

Defra is currently analysing the consultation responses, the impacts of suggested changes and will assess any possible improvements before conducting a full public consultation on any regulatory changes.

In total Defra received 58 responses to the consultation, including 33 from local authorities, six from manufacturers of appliances, five from the general public and three from trade bodies or associations.

Westminster and the City of London councils were the only two authorities in the capital to respond to the consultation.

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