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Published: 2011-08-15 00:00:00

An internal strategy that provides clear direction to the Waikato Regional Council for improving air quality in four non-complying Waikato towns is a step closer to being adopted.

On 10 August the policy and strategy committee endorsed the Waikato Regional Council Air Quality Strategy for adoption by the council, once feedback has been sought from territorial authorities across the region.

Regional council staff will also meet with district councils with non-complying towns for more in-depth discussions.

The strategy focuses on PM10 particles, which are invisible to the human eye and emitted by wood burning fires. PM10 causes a range of health problems for people.

Committee chairperson Paula Southgate said: “While air quality in the Waikato region is generally good, there are still towns where it needs to be improved. Healthier air means healthier people and a healthier economy.”

Tokoroa, Taupo, Te Kuiti and Putaruru currently do not comply with national environmental standards for air quality. To meet the standards, the number of PM10 exceedances in Tokoroa each year needs to drop to three or less by 2016, and one exceedance by 2020. The town has had 12 exceedances so far this winter. Taupo, Te Kuiti and Putaruru will need to drop to one exceedance per year by 2016.

Waikato Regional Council programme manager Leanne Perry-Meyer said: “The overarching aim of the strategy is to have the region complying with national environmental standards.”

The strategy recommends that the council continue its Waikato Clean Retrofit Programme, which offers eligible homeowners free clean heat appliances to replace older, more polluting woodburners and open fires.

“We plan to further develop partnerships with district councils and key stakeholders in the non-complying towns to tackle this complex issue. We hope to work with them to find practical solutions that balance the need for people to heat their homes while also improving their town’s air quality,” Ms Perry-Meyer added.

The public will have a chance to have their say on how aspects of the strategy might be implemented by making a submission on the draft 2012-2022 Long Term Plan in March to April 2012.