Courtesy sought over Spring burn season

29 Aug 2014, 8:00 AM

Northlanders are being asked to be courteous – and follow the rules – as people take advantage of warmer Spring weather and start to consider burning unwanted vegetation and other waste material.

Smokey backyard fire by washing.

Joe Carr, chairman of the Northland Regional Council's Environmental Management Committee, says roughly a quarter of calls to the council's environmental hotline involve complaints about burning and/or associated smoke nuisance.

"However, backyard burning typically increases during spring months in Northland because as the weather improves people start to tidy up their properties ahead of the warmer summer months. The recent storm means there's also likely to be even more waste vegetation around this Spring than last year."

Councillor Carr says in the past the council preferred to educate rather than take enforcement action in most cases, however, as backyard burning continued to be a common cause for complaint, it was considering a more hard line approach from now on.

He says essentially the rules on backyard burning cover two broad geographical areas; one for those living in the more densely populated Whangarei area and another for the rest of the region.

"People living within the Whangarei city airshed – which is roughly bordered by Maunu, Onerahi, Tikipunga, Springs Flat and Hurupaki – are not supposed to burn waste material unless they get a resource consent or their property is larger than one hectare."

"Northlanders outside the Whangarei airshed can have outside fires as long as the fire does not cause offensive or objectionable smoke or odour to neighbouring residents or obscure vision along public roads." (The ability to have fires obviously did not apply when restricted fire season or fire bans had been imposed by local authorities.)

Councillor Carr says where possible, the regional council encourages alternatives to backyard burning.

"Vegetation waste can be composted, mulched or larger branches can be used as firewood, while paper and other materials can usually be recycled."

If waste vegetation was being burnt, many problems could be avoided by ensuring it had been given adequate time to dry first, rather than burning it green.

However, Cr Carr says even if burning itself is allowed, both the council's Regional Air Quality Plan and national regulations specifically ban the burning of a number of materials for health and environmental reasons.

These include rubber tyres, coated metal wires, treated timber, plastic containers, motor vehicle parts and waste oil etcetera.

Those breaching the rules are liable for enforcement action which can range from $300 to $1000 instant fines, abatement notices and prosecution (with the risk of much stiffer penalties) through the courts.

He says general information on the rules around backyard burning – including a more detailed map of the Whangarei airshed – is also available from the council's website:

Those wanting to report nuisance or other burning can contact the regional council's 24/7 environmental hotline (0800) 504 639.