Courtesy call, warning as spring burning season looms

29 Sep 2017

Northlanders are being asked to be courteous and follow the rules – or risk fines and other penalties – as they start thinking about burning unwanted vegetation and other waste material over spring.

Council chairman Bill Shepherd says roughly a quarter of all calls to the Northland Regional Council’s 24/7 environmental hotline involve complaints about burning and/or associated smoke nuisance.

“However, burning typically increases during spring because as the weather improves, people are keen to start tidying up their properties ahead of the warmer summer months.”

Chairman Shepherd says historically, the council had preferred to educate in most cases, rather than take enforcement action, but its approach had toughened in recent years as backyard burning continued to generate large numbers of complaints.

The harder line also applies to those caught breaching the rules at industrial and trade premises.

“Open burning at industrial or trade premises is not permitted under our Regional Air Quality Plan and businesses breaching this rule now typically receive a $1000 instant fine, rather than the warning they may have got previously.”

Chairman Shepherd says the council’s Proposed Regional Plan effectively bans backyard burning in the more densely populated Whangarei urban area and – in a change from previous plans – includes the Kerikeri urban area too.

“People living within the Whangarei city airshed – which is roughly bordered by Maunu, Onerahi, Tikipunga, Springs Flat and Hurupaki – shouldn’t be burning waste unless they are at least 100 metres upwind (and 50m in any other direction) of others, or unless they have a resource consent to burn.”

“Only waste that is paper, untreated wood, cardboard or vegetation can be burnt.”

He says restrictions like this have essentially been in place in the Whangarei urban area for a number of years now, however, council is now proposing to implement similar rules in Kerikeri as well due to growing numbers of smoke-related complaints there.

People keen to know more about this – and other changes in the council’s Proposed Regional Plan (PRP) – can visit www.nrc.govt.nz/newregionalplan  The council is seeking submission on the PRP until 4pm, Wednesday 15 November.

Obi Khanal, the regional council’s Air Quality Specialist, says Northlanders outside the Whangarei and Kerikeri urban areas can still have outside fires, providing;

  • They don’t cause offensive or objectionable smoke or odour to neighbouring residents
  • if the fire is going to last for more than 24 hours and it’s within 100 metres of a smoke sensitive area, the person lighting it needs to notify all neighbours within 100 metres of the fire
  • they don’t obscure vision along a public road
  • fires only contain waste that is paper, untreated wood, cardboard and vegetation (or animal remains where the burning is on agricultural land).

(This ability to have fires obviously does not apply when restricted fire season or fire bans have been imposed by local authorities.)

However, Mr Khanal says in general the regional council is keen to encourage alternatives to backyard burning (regardless of location) wherever possible.

“Waste vegetation can be composted or mulched, larger branches can be used as firewood and paper and other materials can usually be recycled.”

If waste vegetation is being burnt, a lot of problems can be easily avoided just by ensuring it has been given plenty of time to dry out, rather than burning it green.

However, Mr Khanal says even if some burning is allowed, the council’s existing Regional Air Quality Plan and national regulations specifically ban the burning of a number of materials on health and environmental grounds.  These include rubber tyres, coated metal wires, treated timber, plastic containers, motor vehicle parts and waste oil.

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

Mr Khanal says general information on the rules around backyard burning – including a more detailed map of the existing Whangarei airshed – is also available from the council’s website: www.nrc.govt.nz/backyardburning