BLAZING HEAT: It has been a struggle for many in quake-damaged homes to keep warm. Snow-related power cuts have added to the misery.
Low-emission woodburners may soon be allowed in new Christchurch homes as Environment Canterbury (ECan) considers new air pollution rules.
Woodburners have been banned for all new homes in Christchurch since 2002 as ECan tried to meet the Government's national air standards around pollutions levels.
Its 2010 air plan for Christchurch also refused to allow woodburners in new homes, including quake rebuilds, though did let houses with existing approved burners continue using them.
However, in a suprise u-turn announced today, ECan conceded that advances in home heating technology meant ultra-low emission woodburners may be permitted for Christchurch homes within the next few years.
Commissioner for air David Bedford said the authority was looking at "a package of adjustments" to its current air plan to give more options to those building new homes after the earthquakes.
He said ECan wanted to make the changes as quickly as possible to make the most of emerging technologies which made it possible to use woodburners with very low or zero emissions.
''The earthquakes have brought about some unexpected challenges for Christchurch air quality with land use changes, the destruction of homes and the need for people to repair and rebuild their homes,'' he said.
''Many Christchurch people want to be able to use wood as a heating fuel. We think new technology wood burners allowed by an adjustment to the air plan will enable this while also improving air quality.''
However, he said the authority did not want to unwind the improvements that had been made in the last decade.
Bedford said more than $46 million of ratepayer and taxpayer money had been spent over the last 10 years to help people convert to cleaner forms of home heating and improve air quality in the city.
''As a council, we are totally committed to the air plan because having good quality winter air is a health issue.''
Appeal for quake-hit residents
The announcement followed an appeal by a Christchurch District Health Board (CDHB) member for earthquake-affected Christchurch residents to be allowed to use their logburners.
In an open letter to ECan commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley, health board member Wendy Gilchrist said ECan should relax therules on log burners.
Gilchrist, who said she was publicising her concerns as an individual and not on behalf of the CDHB, said she understood ECan's directive to improve air quality, but it needed to be seen in context with the wider needs of the community.
She did not believe ECan should be allowed to interfere with the right of people to rebuild their homes as they were before the region's earthquakes, as was allowed in their insurance contracts.
She also believed there was ''no longer a credible argument'' for removing complying woodburners as a heating option as there were very low or non-emitting woodburners available.
''The cost of wood has remained stable in recent years. We live in a low wage economy, some elderly folk and those low on wages are frequently turning off their electrical heating as they cannot afford the power.''The increasing cost of gas and power was also a reason ECan should relax the rules on logburners, she said.