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Published: 2009-02-11 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is expressing disappointment at the need to propose reductions to planned spending on air quality improvements in towns such as Taupo, Te Kuiti and Tokoroa.

The suggested cuts are being proposed as part of EW’s efforts to reduce costs in the current economic situation.

Through a national environmental standard (NES) enacted in 2004, central Government set maximum levels for fine particles (PM10) in the air to reduce the effects of air pollution on community health.

In its current Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP), EW is committed to achieving the NES standard by 2013 and, to this end, the council has been carrying out a range of initiatives, including committing about $1.2 million over four years to home heating conversions.

But as part of the process for developing the 2009-2019 LTCCP the council is considering reducing the budgets.

Any decision to cut spending also has potentially significant implications for the local economy. If the region fails to achieve the NES standard by 2013, EW will not be able to issue new air discharge consents, or re-issue consent to existing operations when their consents expire, in and around areas that do not comply with the standards.

The council has started lobbying the Government to extend the deadline for meeting the NES.

Currently five urban areas are known not to comply with the standard at times during the winter months: Hamilton, Putaruru, Taupo, Te Kuiti and Tokoroa. The primary cause is smoke from home fires.

Significant work has already been done by EW, its community partners and households to cut PM10 in the worst affected areas (Taupo, Te Kuiti and Tokoroa) by offering up to $300,000 a year to obtain matching funding from central Government, for converting wood fires to “cleaner” forms of home heating.

This work is set to continue - but just $100,000 a year would be on offer from EW if the planned cuts are phased in after consultation and council sign off.
“It’s disappointing that we find ourselves in this position,” said EW’s chairman Peter Buckley.

“The work that’s gone on to reduce PM10 has been important but the unfortunate impact of the global financial crisis on our investment fund income means that we’re having to cut costs where we can.”

Besides reducing funding for home-heating conversions, the council is expected to propose:

  • reducing  the level of community education on the health impacts of poor air quality
  • restricting  air quality monitoring to areas already being measured
  • developing a plan change to regulate the use of some polluting heating appliances; to be notified in 2012 and operative by 2015.

The constituency councilor for one of the worst affected areas, South Waikato’s Norm Barker, encouraged people in his area to have their say on the proposals.

 “We need to hear what people in the affected areas have to say about the implication of our proposed cut depending on air quality initiatives,” Cr Barker said.

“Regardless of what’s eventually decided, we will continue to work closely with other agencies and the affected communities on air quality issues.

“We really value the relationships we’ve developed in the course of our work to reduce PM10 and we could consider restoring funding as economic conditions improve.”

The council will approve the Draft 2009 - 2019 Long Term Council Community Plan on 12 March 2009. Consultation will run for a month from 20 March