Mr. A.Familton, Mayor,  Mr. G.Kircher, Deputy Mayor,  Councilors, Waitaki District Council

I am passionate about Oamaru!  ….. iconic architecture, local wildlife, renowned secondary educational facilities, the splendid Opera House, a state-of-the-art heated pool, an excellent primary care hospital, the attractive  town Gardens, and an historical harbour. And not to overlook its easy access to the Waitaki Valley, Central Otago, and Dunedin. The cafes are great too!    Oamaru is truly one of the great small towns of the world.

I never hesitate to advocate Oamaru’s merits to potential visitors, students, retirees and migrants. There is, however, one drawback – Oamaru’s troublesome winter evening air pollution.  The thick smoke can turn an evening walk into a very unpleasant experience and leave you with tearing eyes.

The Otago Regional Council is primarily responsible for air quality and is working to have Otago meet the minimal national air quality particulate standard of 50 PM10 average over a 24 hour period by 2011.  It hopes Oamaru will achieve this standard by banning new polluting heating appliances, and by gradually replacing existing coal and wood burning appliances over time with clean heating appliances – mainly heat pumps.  The difficulty with this approach is that it severely underestimates Oamaru’s air pollution problem.

As you know, Oamaru benefits from stiff easterly breezes that provide us with relatively clean air during the day.  A 50 PM10 AVERAGE reading over a 24 hour period that meets the national standard would, for Oamaru, mask high evening readings.  And the Regional Council staff has confirmed to me that some of Oamaru’s evening particulate readings are “off the scale”.   For example, the AVERAGE 24 hour reading for June 20, 2008 was 51.4, but the hourly readings climbed to 126.8 by 6pm and peaked at 188.6 at 7pm.  PM10 particles are extremely small and find their way into the remotest parts of the lungs. Exposure to Oamaru’s high evening particulate levels can have significant adverse health effects such as acute bronchitis, asthma, and other serious respiratory diseases.

Air pollution also poses significant economic issues.  Apart from the high related medical costs, our tourism industry relies to a large extent on a clean, green environment.  And with the economic down turn, many highly skilled migrants and returning expatriates are looking for environmentally clean provincial centers to establish their families and set up consulting and other businesses – some involving significant offshore contact. By making the cut at number 25 and as the smallest center on the Government’s recently announced list of communities slated to receive high speed fiber-optic internet access, Oamaru could attract its share of these folk – particularly with a clean environment as a point of difference from other South Island communities.

The Regional Council has advised me its rules established under the Resource Management Act prohibit a householder from causing heating appliance emissions to be a nuisance beyond the property boundary.  Therefore, an enforcement response to the problem might be possible, but I think such a heavy handed approach would be a mistake – at least in the first instance.  Since cold homes also lead to significant health problems and medical costs, a better and more effective approach would be to deal with the heating emissions problem as part of a wider Oamaru clean heat initiative. Such a programme would likely have a number of components:

The serious side effects of cold homes and air pollution do not appear to be widely appreciated, and an initial educational process involving the Regional Council and local newspapers would be beneficial. Community information meetings outlining the advantages of home insulation and heating upgrades could be useful – particularly relating to dwellings built before the 1978 insulation standards came into effect. Ideally, this would boost the the number of insulation and heating upgrades, especially with the useful subsidies currently available from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and from the additional funds expected in the Government’s May 28 budget.

A programme for the insulation of low-income homes might follow the example of Dunedin’s Waitati Energy Retrofit Project which provides advice and an 80% subsidy through an EECA funded contract.  The Waitati community was reportedly instrumental in pushing for the funding in their area, and for identifying homes that might benefit from the programme.

Local bank funding is also available for qualifying customers, and as a last resort, Council funding could be made available with recovery made through an additional periodic charge to the borrowing householder via the rating system.

Options are also available to assist home owners who might struggle to pay energy bills.  If customers approach the energy companies early on, they will help to smooth payments and provide other assistance through Work and Income NZ, depending on their circumstances.

While air quality is the primary responsibility of the Otago Regional Council, its priorities lie with the most polluted Air Zone 1 towns and if our position is to be improved, Oamaru will need to do considerable work to bring homeowners up-to-date with the issues and opportunities, and negotiate programmes and funding with the various agencies involved.  It is essential that local Oamaru folk be involved in these initiatives and I would be willing to take part in that. But I think overall direction should be provided by the Council through one of its officers and I recommend such a position be included in the first year of the Plan.

The Waitaki District Council has exercised great foresight in upgrading Oamaru’s domestic water supply to provide the town with an abundant supply of quality water – a significant advantage in an increasingly parched world.  I believe clean air is an equally important objective which can be achieved at a much lower cost and will be money well spent.  A  clean bill of health on air quality would set Oamaru apart from practically all other South Island towns.

Respectfully submitted,

Allan Portis