Oxford City Council has approved plans to consult on the expanding its longstanding Smoke Control Areas to cover the whole city.
The proposals will be subject to a public consultation this winter, and agreement by the Secretary of State.
Smoke Control Areas (SCAs) aim to prevent people from burning high-polluting fuels, helping protect the public from microscopic particles (PM2.5) which can get into lungs and cause serious health conditions.
Oxford currently has 23 Smoke Control Areas, which cover about 48% of the Oxford area- including the city centre, and urban areas such as Headington, most of East Oxford, Blackbird Leys, Abingdon Road, Botley Road and Jericho.
The new plans include a public consultation on a draft Smoke Control Order which will replace the patchwork of current Smoke Control Areas with a single Smoke Control Area for the whole of Oxford.
This will mean that several areas of the city including north Oxford (from Summertown up to Wolvercote), Rose Hill, Littlemore, New Headington, Old Marston, and parts of the Temple Cowley could be covered by the new Smoke Control Area.
The plans follow in the footsteps of Reading Borough Council, which is currently consulting on plans to introduce a single Smoke Control Area across Berkshire’s County town.
What is a Smoke Control Area?
Smoke Control Areas aim to reduce the smoke that can be released from domestic and commercial chimneys, thereby reducing the amount of air pollutants emitted into the air.
In a Smoke Control Area, residents and businesses must follow certain regulations to be able to burn solid fuel in a way that is both clean and safe.
Within a smoke control area, residents and businesses will still be able to buy and use solid fuel, provided that they:
Or, if they are unable to use an approved stove or appliance, they must use an authorised fuel type.
Houseboats are not covered by existing Smoke Control Area legislation and therefore will not be covered by the single Smoke Control Area proposal. However, the Council is working with the boating communities to reduce pollution from boats through it’s ‘eco-moorings’ trial and by issuing best practice and guidance for boaters through its Do you Fuel Good? campaign.
Bonfires and barbecues are also not covered by Smoke Control Areas, and there is separate guidance on the Council’s website.
Under the proposals, nothing will change for those living in the parts of Oxford already covered by a Smoke Control Area.
Oxford’s first Smoke Control Areas were introduced in 1958 – six years after the Great Smog of London, which covered the capital for five days and resulted in some 12,000 deaths. A map of the existing Smoke Control Areas can be found on the City Council’s website.
How is a Smoke Control Area enforced?
If the City Council witnesses smoke from the chimney of a domestic or commercial building, it can issue fines of between £175 and £300.
Those found to be selling or buying unauthorised fuel for use without an approved appliance in a Smoke Control Area can face fines of up to £1,000.
Following approval at Cabinet last night, the Council plans to consult on the proposals this winter, and residents and businesses will be invited to share their views.
The decision to extend the Smoke Control Areas will also be subject to approval by the Secretary of State.
Health impact of air pollution
The WHO estimates that around 7 million deaths each year are linked with air pollution – with air pollution now estimated to be competing with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking.
In September 2021, the World Health Organisation published new guidelines which recommends stricter limits on the ‘safe’ level of air pollution, including PM2.5 and NO2. However, despite this update, it advised that there is no level at which pollutants stop causing damage.
Over the last decade alone (from 2011 to 2021), emissions from fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) from domestic wood burning increased by 124% in the UK.
How the Council is tackling air pollution
Oxford City Council has a statutory duty to monitor and report on air quality within the city. Over the past few years fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) levels have plateaued in Oxford, in the areas where this pollutant is being monitored and the city’s latest air quality annual status report, shows that PM2.5 levels are still slightly above the current recommended WHO guidelines for this pollutant
In Oxford, 66% of all local fine particulates (PM2.5) come from domestic heating, compared with only 21% coming from transport. This includes the use of gas heating and cookers as well as solid fuel stoves.
In 2021, the Council approved its Air Quality Action Plan 2021-2025, which outlines a list of actions that the Council and its partners are taking to improve air quality in Oxford. This list of actions includes a review of Oxford’s Smoke Control Areas.
Last year, Oxford City Council launched its ‘Do You Fuel Good?’ campaign in partnership with the Canal and River Trust. The campaign aims to educate and inform people who use wood burning stoves and open fireplaces on the harms they cause, and ways to reduce the impact to their health and the environment.
“I am pleased that we will be moving forward in our efforts to tackle toxic air pollution in our city. We know that smoke and air pollution can lead to severe health issues, and implementing a single Smoke Control Area will aid us in reducing both indoor and outdoor particulate pollution across the city.
“We will be holding a public consultation this winter to hear from local residents and businesses on the proposals, and I encourage all those interested to share their thoughts.”
Councillor Anna Railton, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford and Climate Justice