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The hearth or fire place has been the focal point for homes for tens of thousands of years; and, despite all the modern conveniences available today, there is still something comforting and almost primeval about crowding round a blazing fire. Fires do have their issues though and recently the Auckland Council once again delayed the proposed Air Quality bylaw draft regarding the replacement of open fire places and older wood burners. Now I am fairly sure this is not all a big conspiracy to push us towards heat-pumps and gas fires thereby putting us at the mercy of the energy companies but rather stems from the October 2004 initiative where the Government introduced air quality standards with the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality or AQNES. AQNES includes ambient standards which are designed to guarantee a set level of protection for human health and the environment. There are approximately 17,000 open fires and 64,000 older wood burners in the Auckland region so this initiative will affect many people. Some councils around New Zealand, for example Christchurch, Nelson and Rotorua, have already set bylaws in place to address air pollution issues so it was only a matter of time before Auckland needed to step up.

The matter though is still up for discussion and public consultation with the Council hoping to push through the bylaw to come into affect in two phases. It was hoped that from 1st May 2015 no coal could be burned on open fires and only clean wood allowed in urban areas. Then in phase two, by 1st October 2018, open fires would be banned and pre-2005 wood burners would have to have been removed or replaced. The council however are also hoping to push through a "Point of Sale" rule in the first phase.

It is proposed that after 1st May 2015 the Point of Sale rule would impose an obligation on any vendor selling a property, which contains a non-compliant indoor fire, to remove or replace it by the time of sale. The idea is that, as there would be an outstanding council requirement, then the vendor would have to undertake, under the vendor warranty clause in the standard sale and purchase agreement, to complete the works before settlement. The council's plan however, to have vendors police this compliance for them, could fall short if the purchaser acknowledges and accepts on a sales and purchase agreement that the indoor fire is non-compliant and agrees not to hold the vendor liable. Indeed many purchasers may not want to have a new wood burner put in, preferring perhaps heat pumps or gas fires, so replacing a non compliant indoor fire before settlement would be a pointless and expensive exercise for the vendor.

Now I am not saying that I am against cleaner air and improving the quality of life in Auckland far from it. There is much evidence that fine particulate emissions have a damaging effect on health and in particular cause respiratory problems. Also an increase in heart attacks, lung disease, asthma and strokes can all be linked to fine particulates so of course I do believe that there should be an initiative to push towards better air quality standards. The biggest culprit in this matter though is not old and open fires it is vehicle emissions. The lack of regulation regarding CO2 and fine particulate emissions from transport is shocking. How many times have you been behind an old truck, bus, van or car and had to close up your windows to escape the dark, belching fumes coming from the exhaust? Other countries have emission testing as part of the warrant of fitness so why not in New Zealand? Why are we subjected to vehicles that are polluting our nation that would not be allowed in other countries?

The local council pushes that responsibility onto central government but what is stopping them taking the initiative? Blaming open fires and old wood burners is diverting the issue. Sure in the winter months the greater proportion of air pollution may come from domestic fires but for the majority of the year it is vehicles. That is where a huge focus needs to be made and action should be taken.

However back to the matter at hand. If Auckland Council are so keen on imposing Air Quality rules onto house holders then they should educate and incentivise accordingly. Their current "Retrofit your Home" scheme provides a loan for insulation and clean heating alternatives (though subject to terms and conditions). It is a loan however not a subsidy or grant. Replacing fireplaces and wood burners is expensive and those properties with open fires and older wood burners may well be owned by those who cannot afford to come up with several thousand dollars to buy a new fire. By the council's own figures the social costs including sickness, lost work days and environmental problems caused by indoor home heating figures is estimated to be at least $624million per year. By granting a $1800 subsidy to everyone who was required to replace their old fireplace or wood burner those social costs could be covered in less than three months, the Air Quality targets would be achieved, there would be an increase in work in the fireplace industry and the health of Auckland would be much improved for years to come. Really a win-win solution for everyone concerned.

As the consultation period is now delayed until next year I would urge everyone for the sake of the environment, the sake of their family's health and even for the sake of their wallets to take time just to make their thoughts known on this important issue when the opportunity to make submissions becomes available in January next year.

Article by Simon Bradley.

For more information contact the Team at Glover Real Estate (Licensed under the REAA 2008) Titirangi 09 817 8066 | Green Bay 09 827 5999 | New Lynn 09 827 0555 Subscribe to our weekly Home Alerts - details on our website:

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The Fringe DECEMBER 2014 – JANUARY 2015 17 Promoting Ethics in Real Estate

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