English councils have issued just 3 fines


There has been just one prosecution and three fines handed out for people using banned wood-burning stoves in England, data has revealed.

Despite more than 10,000 complaints about wood being burned in populated areas since January 2022, local councils have not been enforcing the government’s “tough new restrictions” on stoves. Two-thirds of these complaints were not followed up; only a handful led to any action.

Urban areas with high particulate pollution face restrictions on burning wood, to avoid more particulates spewing into the air. Particle pollution is associated with increased mortality from causes including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.

Dirty air causes 26,000 to 38,000 early deaths a year in England, and the particles are linked to many other health problems including dementia and depression. Wood burning has overtaken traffic in the UK as one of the most harmful sources of the smallest particles, known as PM2.5. Emissions of PM2.5 from wood burning increased by 35% between 2010 and 2020, the Times reported.

In smoke-control areas, households can only burn unauthorized fuels, such as wood, on appliances that are rigorously tested to demonstrate low-smoke emissions. Fines of up to £300 and criminal prosecutions, which could result in fines of up to £5,000, can be brought under the Environment Act 2021.

Only about 8% of people in the UK burn solid fuels indoors, meaning a small minority are responsible for significant amounts of pollution. Two-thirds of these people live in urban areas, where the impact of air pollution is worst, and virtually all of them have other sources of heating.

Research by the campaign group Mums for Lungs found 80 local authorities said they were not using the new powers, while 47 councils said the measures did not apply to them.

In January, the government promised to introduce legislation after the publication of the Environmental Improvement Planworld-leading (EIP) 2023 that would cut the emissions limit of wood-burning stoves from 5g of smoke an hour to 3g.

The government then weakened its message in August, when the air quality strategy framework for local authority delivery rowed back on the EIP language, suggesting ministers would “look to strengthen” the effect of smoke-control areas and consult on potentially reducing the limit.

Jemima Hartshorn, founder of Mums for Lungs, said: “The government claims to have ‘world leading’ legal provisions to address air pollution but our research shows these are abjectly failing. Thousands of people are dying from respiratory illnesses and thousands of complaints are being made, but no action is being taken to clean up our air. People are suffocating, but being met with silence.”

Her group has written to the Office for Environmental Protection, asking the watchdog to investigate the failure of these legal provisions to bring about any reduction in the harm to people’s health.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Our Environment Act made it easier for local authorities to act on pollution from domestic burning in smoke control areas and it is their legal duty to do that by issuing fines as they deem necessary for breaches of smoke control area rules. We continue to work closely with them to improve awareness and understanding of those rules.

“We also remain committed to cutting the emissions limit of wood burning stoves to 3g an hour – with a consultation to be launched next year.”

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