London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently unveiled proposals that would allow him to ban wood burning in some parts of London.
He wrote to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to ask for greater powers that would allow him to introduce “zero-emission zones” in which burning wood and coal would be completely prohibited. He is also seeking tighter controls on stove sales.
While we share Mr Khan’s desire to see pollution curbed in London and other cities, he has got it wrong with this set of proposals. Here are a few of the reasons why…
1. Modern woodburners are very environmentally friendly
The wood-burning stoves sold by us and other stove retailers these days are a world away from wood-burning stoves of yesteryear. They incorporate a range of technologies that make them very green. These include:
- Baffle plates to keep flammable gases in the firebox and out of the flue for longer.
- Clever air systems that pump pre-heated air into the stove for a more efficient and more widespread burn of flammable gases that reduces emission of unburnt hydrocarbons.
- In some cases, boilers that provide heat to radiators and central heating to reduce dependence on gas, oil and electricity.
There is a wealth of information available on how to operate woodburners in ways that make it even more environmentally friendly, so education is important, too.
Rather than a total ban on woodburners in some areas, Mr Khan might consider incentivising residents to scrap old, inefficient stoves in favour of new, cleaner appliances. The government’s scrappage scheme for older cars operates along similar lines. The old stove scrappage scheme could even be extended to open fireplaces because…
2. Woodburners are much more environmentally friendly than open fires
Although wood-burning stoves are taking the rap given their popularity, there are far more open fireplaces in London than there are woodburners. Depending on its efficiency and the fuel being used, a woodburner will lose around 20-30 per cent of unspent gases up the chimney and into the air. In an open fireplace, that figure is around 70-80 per cent, which means open fires create far more pollution than woodburners.
Tighter restrictions on woodburner sales would not do anything to solve pollution from open fires.
3. There is already legislation in place
The Clean Air Act already legislates for smoke control areas in London and other parts of the UK. Householders in smoke control areas are prohibited from burning wood and solid fuel unless they do so on an appliance exempted by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), or they use a fuel that is exempted by DEFRA. Breaking the rules can result in a fine of up to £1,000.
Local authorities could and should be doing more to clampdown on breaches of the Clean Air Act, which largely relate to open fires rather than stoves. If Mr Khan were to focus his efforts on better enforcement of this existing legislation, it would probably be a more cost-effective way of achieving the same goal.
4. Woodburners are cost-effective
Londoners have enough cost of living expense to deal with as it is. When used responsibly and legally, wood-burning stoves are a great, carbon-neutral way for people to heat their homes cheaply. A total ban being implemented in some areas would force people living in those places to once again become dependent on the big energy companies, whose price rises in recent memory have been of concern to politicians from all the main parties, including Mr Khan’s Labour party, and whose energy is predominantly generated by burning fossil fuels.
If you live in London and are worried about Mr Khan’s proposals, here is some advice on what you can do. Of course, you can also write to the Mayor to express any concerns you have about the plans.