A ban on domestic open fireplaces and old wood burners affecting up to 85,000 homes is being drawn up by Auckland Council.

The council estimates that 21,000 households have open fireplaces and there are 64,000 pre-2005 wood burners that have to be replaced with modern, less polluting models.

Details of a draft air quality bylaw will be made public next week before being considered by the council's regulatory and bylaws committee on October 21. This will be followed by public consultation.

The plans look set to be phased in over several years.


Committee chairman Calum Penrose said the council planned to take a pragmatic approach with the bylaw to give people time to install alternative heating options.

"We don't want to be seen as the big ogre coming down on people in Auckland," he said.

Mr Penrose said it would be difficult for the council to meet a deadline of 2016 set by the Ministry for the Environment for all regional councils to meet new air quality standards.

Instead, it would be phased in over several years.

It is understood the council is not interested in penalising people for using open fireplaces or non-complying wood burners, but will respond to complaints by explaining the rules and providing advice for alternative heating options.

According to council figures, 75 per cent of Auckland's winter air pollution is due to fine particle emissions (PM10) from open fires and non- compliant wood burners.

Motor vehicles account for 18 per cent of pollution and industry 7 per cent.

The council said the burning of coal and wood during winter raised the level of PM10 inhaled and lodged in lungs, and that 110 adults died prematurely every year due to emissions from indoor fires.

The ministry has set a rule of one breach of the new air quality standards a year. This winter there were no breaches in Auckland. There were five breaches in 2009.

Anne-Marie Coury, the president of Grey Power's central Auckland branch, said the proposed ban would impact on the elderly, particularly the 51 per cent of people who survived solely on national superannuation and having to cut corners on things like electricity.

"The elderly know how to build a good fire. The hard thing will be they won't have the money to upgrade to an alternative, other than a bar heater which is not going to give them that same sense of wrap-around heat," she said.

A new wood burner and flue can cost about $3500, heat pumps cost about $2000 for a small room, a 2000 watt heater costs less than $100 and four cubic metres of firewood costs around $400.

Councillor Cameron Brewer, who will sit on the hearings panel for the air quality bylaw and cannot comment, has previously criticised a ban on domestic fireplaces and pre-2005 wood burners.

In March, he said having to buy a heat pump and pay more for electricity would hit people on low-incomes and the elderly hard and leave many in the cold. Mr Brewer said the council needed to look harder at dirty diesel buses that choked city streets.

A recent study by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) found Customs St in the central city, used by hundreds of buses daily, had the highest nitrogen dioxide vehicle emissions among 62 sites around the city.

The same study found concentrations of carbon monoxide from petrol cars were "far below any relevant standards of guidelines".

Dr Ian Longley, air quality leader at Niwa, said that was unsurprising, given the prevalence of carbon-filtering catalytic converters in cars.

Auckland Council is also introducing an outdoor fire safety bylaw, which consolidates the common practice of urban and rural rules by the previous councils for barbeques, braziers, pizza ovens, hangis and the like, and allows farmers and rural lifestylers to continue council-approved burn-offs and incinerator fires.

Indoor and outdoor fire rules

What is Auckland Council doing to set rules for fires?

An Outdoor Fire Safety Bylaw determining what types of outdoor fire are allowed in urban and rural areas and giving the council the ability to declare fire bans is due to come into force in December. A draft Air Quality Bylaw controlling indoor fireplaces and wood burners will be released next week.

What type of outdoor fires will be allowed in urban areas?
Outdoor fire devices for cooking, heating or amenity, such as barbecues and pizza ovens. Burning rubbish, green waste or other waste is prohibited.

What type of outdoor fires will be allowed in rural areas?
In an open fire season, outdoor fire devices, such as a barbecue or brazier are allowed as are council-approved incinerator fires and open air fires.

In a restrictred fire season stringent controls will be in place.

What is PM10?
A term used to describe particles that are 10 micrometres or less in diameter and harmful to human health.

A PM10 breach occurs when more than 50 micrograms per cubic metre over 24 hours is released more than once in 12 months.