The HB Regional Council has just released encouraging figures indicating that our urban catchments are on a healthy trajectory with regard to air quality.

First is the nettlesome issue of complaints about improper burning. These have fallen from 143 complaints in 2019, down to 118 in 2020, and dropping to 78 in 2021. 66 Infringements were issued at in 2019, decreasing to 45 in 2020, and then to 31 in 2021.

Two reasons this has happened. First and foremost, the steady insistence of Rex Graham in his role as HBRC chairman that orchardists (the main but not only culprits) had to clean up their act. 

Rex banged the drum loudly and took a lot of abuse from some of his ‘mates’ in the orchard biz, but held his ground and demonstrated the ultimate effectiveness of the ‘bully pulpit’ — using his public leadership position to voice a forceful, persistent demand for change.

Rex commented to BayBuzz: “It is really good to see that homeowners, life-stylers and growers on the Heretaunga plains are reducing their outdoor burning. It is very difficult to burn outdoors in this environment on a large flat plains area, without affecting your neighbours. When you do this you are effectively polluting the air that they breath and impacting on their lives and health, no different from a factory in a third world country puffing toxic smoke over its community. We are very fortunate to live in a particularly beautiful part of the world and we don’t want any day living here ruined by smoky and often dangerous fires.”

Second, the Council itself stepped up in his wake and prosecuted the major violators, winning fines in court and effectively publicly shaming the wayward. The stick has been needed.

The broader good news is that air quality overall has improved in the Hastings and Napier airsheds. Napier had just one exceedance and Hastings didn’t exceed the National Environmental Standard for PM10 for the first time since continuous monitoring began in the city about 15 years ago.

The weather might have helped with this, says Regional Council principal scientist air, Dr Kathleen Kozyniak. “Average temperatures during winter in Hastings were a little warmer and windier than usual, with a decrease in downslope, southwest winds that come from the ranges under frosty conditions, and an increase in easterlies. The increase in easterlies is likely to have contributed more natural sources, like sea salt, to both Awatoto and Napier’s concentrations so might explain why we didn’t see any real reductions in those places compared to Hastings.” 

That said, HBRC deserves some credit here too, alongside the many residents who have improved their heating and insulation systems, thousands taking advantage of HBRC’s Sustainable Homes programme. As of 30 June 2021, 16,916 homes have used the programme since its inception in 2009.

Here’s info on the programme, now expanded to include improvements to home water storage and septic systems and solar installations. Good work Mark Heaney, who has guided this ship.

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