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A Full Smoke Control Area Is Better Than a Tiny Smoke Control Area

Written by Adrian Hill

Brighton & Hove suffered the highest background particulate pollution in 2023 in England according to DEFRA monitors and our city is the largest without a full Smoke Control Area (SCA). However Brighton's Labour group seems to continue to delay, block and object to an expansion of our small SCA. Their recent defence is that it might not be effective enough to reduce pollution due to the low level of previous enforcement. This is certainly an improvement to Cllr Appich's shocking justification for blocking the expansion in 2022; "people should be able to burn what they want" but this latest response still falls short as it ignores the 2022 update of the Clean Air Act that improves enforcement and the fact SCAs, even when not enforced, act as a deterrent.

An alternative to a SCA is to begin phasing out wood & coal as fuels for domestic heating nationally and I agree. A complete phase out would be easier to enforce and would be justified. In doing so we could reduce pm2.5 emissions by some 20 or 30% which in cities could mean even larger reductions to exposure levels where it can hang around on cold windless evenings. However neither Labour nor Conservatives support phasing it out and have failed to suggest any alternative plan to reduce PM2.5 from domestic solid fuel burning.

Poor Air Quality continues to be the biggest environmental risk to human health (EIC 2023) and contributes to poor health. Improving our health and avoiding unnecessary suffering should be the goal. We must reduce the amount of smoke we emit in order to reduce the amount of pollution we breathe in.

The government admitted that enforcement of SCAs was almost impossible and have finally acted. The 1993 Clean Air Act and the wording on SCAs was updated substantially in 2022 in order to tackle this exact problem and to make it easier for councils to improve air quality and enforcement through SCAs.

The reason SCAs were not enforced in the past is because there was no clear legal framework to enforcement. In the 2022 update, the act provides a much clearer framework to enforcement, moving the offence away from criminal and making it a civil debt. This I understand makes it easier to issue and recover fines. The update creates a framework with good detail that specifies how to deal with liablilty, objections, notices, appeals and recovery. It might take a while for councils to get the best out of the new legislation and make use of it but I believe we should help in that effort and encourage councils to use this new framework.

SCAs I agree are not strict enough but they have been made more strict in the 2022 update, for example one of a number of improvements reduces the maximum allowed output of a stove from 5 to 3 grams of smoke per hour. This is still too much but currently, in Brighton where the majority of us are not protected by a SCA, there is no limit at all!

In order to improve health, a complete phase out of wood & coal burning should be the ultimate and urgent goal but as neither Labour nor Conservative parties have indicated they want to phase out wood & coal the only intervention we have is to expand and properly enforce our SCAs. Currently Labour and Conservative councillors seem to be blocking this intervention.

Even if the political will was there it would take a long time for the legislation to pass, for example the 2022 update I believe took over three years.

In the short term, especially in Brighton where only a tiny portion of the city is covered by a SCA (, it is the only serious intervention available to our council.

I expect Labour's next delay would be to suggest that we should wait to see if the new legislation works before expanding SCAs. I don't understand what this would achieve other than provide further delays. People generally obey laws; if a full SCA was brought in, the majority of people would obey that law and stop burning in the most polluting ways and one would expect that emissions would be reduced. A minority would continue but the situation overall would be improved and we do have the new enforcement framework to assist.

Even if the SCA didn't work for the whole city it might provide assistance to vulnerable individuals who are suffering a steady stream of smoke entering their property. This I believe is justification enough to expand the SCA.

An expanded Smoke Control Area to cover the whole of Brighton would be more effective than a tiny one and I urge our council to take the action required without any further delay. We will support them in this. I do agree SCAs won’t completely solve the problem but they will surely help.

If the Labour and Conservative councillors who voted down SCAs in the past won’t introduce a full SCA they must provide a clear and workable strategy that will reduce wood & coal emissions; currently they are failing on this and have been failing for nearly five years since our original question was put to them at committee.

My strong opinion is that in the short term, locally, as well as raising awareness, there is no other option but to expand and enforce the smoke control area.

Good health to you all!