Sadiq Khan’s proposed ban on wood-burning stoves in the most-polluted areas of London will not be enforced against householders and will only be in operation at certain times of the year. Under the mayor of London’s plans, the stoves would be occasionally banned from use in zones in the capital from 2025 and UK-wide laws blocking the sale of all but the newest, cleanest stoves from 2022 would be brought in earlier.
In an attempt to reassure the thousands of Londoners who bought the stoves in good faith, the focus will be on educating owners not to burn wood during bad air quality episodes. Authorities will reserve enforcement for commercial users such as hotels. There are about 1.5m stoves in the UK and 200,000 are sold annually, with the appliances often marketed as a green form of home heating. However, there has been growing concern over their environmental impact. Researchers at King’s College London have found that wood-burning in the capital accounts for up to 31% of the city’s particulate pollution, up from 10% in the past. The tiny particles, known as PM2.5, are the most harmful type of air pollution and exacerbate lung and heart conditions. Khan has called for greater powers from government to act on wood-burning after he discovered it contributed half of the pollution during a dirty air episode in January.
“Non-transport sources contribute half of the deadly emissions in London so we need a hard-hitting plan of action to combat them similar to moves I am taking to reduce pollution from road vehicles,” he said.
The Green party and campaigners said the mayor was right to tackle emissions from the stoves. ClientEarth, a group that has won court battles against the government on pollution, said the the stoves combined with diesel car emissions in winter to create a “toxic soup”.
“A lot of people don’t realise that wood-burning has an impact on air quality, particularly in urban areas,” said Alan Andrews, a lawyer at the firm.
However, there are questions over how practical it would be to enforce the proposed ban.
The government website on smoke control zones warns of a £1,000 fine for people using unauthorised stoves. However, the Guardian understands that not a single fine was issued in London over the past year.
“A big problem here is a lack of enforcement of the Clean Air Act,” said Dennis Milligan of the Stove Industry Alliance. He said that open fires, which the act prohibits in many towns and cities, were the real problem contributing to London’s dirty air.
“I totally disagree with him on banning stuff,” said Milligan, adding he had been trying to speak to Khan all year about his members’ support for cleaner stoves but Friday’s announcement was the first he had heard of plans for a ban. The mayor’s office did not deny the claim.
Khan has written to Michael Gove, the environment secretary, asking him to amend the Clean Air Act to give him the powers to create zones where the burning of solid fuels such as wood is banned.
The move could affect wood-burning stove owners beyond London, too. The mayor’s office said he supported the amendment being made in a way that such powers were given to all cities, not just the capital. Secondly, Khan is calling for new EU standards mandating cleaner, lower emission stoves to be brought in earlier than 2022, when they are planned to come into force. The Stove Industry Alliance said its members had begun selling “Ecodesign-ready” stoves in February.
Wood-burning has been increasing across the UK, with a 2015 government surveyfinding consumption in homes had been significantly underestimated. It is most popular in the south-east and south-west of the country.
Wood-burning – what you can and can’t do
• Most large towns and cities in the UK are covered by a smoke control zone, which prohibits the use of open fires
• However, certain stoves approved by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can be used to burn wood in those zones
• From 2025 in zero emission zones created in London’s most polluted areas even approved stoves will be banned from use during certain times of year.