A controversial plan to ban domestic open fires and old woodburners in Auckland has been kicked to touch until at least next year.
The Auckland Council was due to approve draft rules yesterday for public consultation this month, but voted to defer the matter until February.
The ban would affect an estimated 17,000 households with open fireplaces and 64,000 pre-2005 woodburners that would have to be replaced with modern, less-polluting models.
A source said the mayoral office was behind the move to defer the air-quality bylaw after widespread criticism.
It follows a council backdown in July on a bylaw preventing people from scattering cremation ashes in public places.
Mayor Len Brown and councillor Calum Penrose, the bylaws committee chairman, acknowledged a high level of community concern at the domestic fire bans.
The bylaw is designed to meet a Ministry for the Environment deadline of 2016 for regional councils to meet new air-quality standards.
The council wants to clean up the city's fine-particle air pollution, which in winter is mainly caused by home fires and woodburners that date from before 2005 and do not meet the latest national emissions standards.
Auckland's home fires, tiny particles from which can lodge in the lungs, are estimated to cause the premature deaths of 110 adults a year, as well as 76 hospital admissions for heart and breathing disorders.
The bylaw is intended to reduce this toll. It is aimed at cutting the number of times the city exceeds national fine-particle air pollution limits from an average of twice a year over the past five years, to no more than the permitted once a year.
It had been expected to come into effect next May. It would cover metropolitan Auckland and the Orewa area, but exclude rural areas and rural towns such as Waiheke, Pukekohe and Warkworth.
Domestic chimneys would have to be cemented up or blocked in other ways before a house with an open fireplace could be sold under the proposed bylaw.
One chimney sweep firm says it charges around $200 to cap a brick chimney with tiles and cement.
The president of Grey Power's central Auckland branch, Anne-Marie Coury, said it was sensible to defer the bylaw, go back to the drawing board and look at products that allowed woodburners to be altered to meet new standards and assistance packages. A low carbon plan also needed looking at, she said.
Mr Penrose said the council would like the Government to work with the council in providing people with clean heat alternatives and support the more vulnerable in the community whose only form of heating was open fires.
North Shore councillor Chris Darby said the Auckland Council and its predecessors had been deferring a decision on improving air quality since 2004.
"The scientific evidence is scathing. Let's not shy away from this. People are dying."