West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

"Abandoning Smoke Control Zone would not impact on Fuel Poverty"

Published: 4 October, 2011

Statement from Sinn Féin Grouping on Strabane District Council
"Abandoning Smoke Control Zone would not impact on Fuel Poverty"
In the context of spiralling energy and home heating costs, coupled with the record sub-zero temperatures of the last two winters, the issue of combating ever-increasing fuel poverty is undoubtedly one of the main challenges facing society particularly as we face into another winter with predications of yet another record-breaking cold winter ahead.
Locally, much of the debate surrounding fuel poverty has centred round the issue of the Council's Smoke Control Zones Policy which has been in operation in areas of Strabane, Newtownstewart and Castlederg from 2005/6 with calls from some quarters for Council to abandon this policy altogether and permit the unregulated burning of coal once again.
We believe that this would be a mistake as not only would it fail to address the underlying causes of increasing fuel poverty, but would also represent a major set-back in terms of the get strides that have been made to improve air quality and reduce the level of harmful PM 10 emissions which were at extremely dangerous levels and a major contributing factor to ill health (especially respiratory conditions) in the District prior to the introduction of the Smoke Control Zone Policy.
The argument being put forward by those advocating the total abandonment of the Policy in favour of a return to normal coal is that it would represent a cheaper form of fuel. The fact is that, under the existing Policy, people can still burn smokeless fuel which is the same price, has a greater heating value without generating the same harmful air-pollutant emissions.
Sinn Féin has supported the Smoke Control Zone Policy, with the proviso that it not be implemented in a draconian manner i.e. that we will not support the prosecution of anyone in relation to breaches of the policy but that the principle thrust of the policy be about advising householders on the most economically efficient home heating alternatives and insulation measures available to them within the policy and this has and will continue to be the case.
However, the cold reality is that even if the Smoke Control Zone Policy was not in place, in this and other districts, its absence would not in any way address the underlying factors which are contributing to the unprecedented levels fuel poverty which are: price of fuel, income, and energy efficiency.
While local Councils are limited in what they can do to address these underlying factors our councillors locally have been pro-actively pursuing a number of measures and actions in an effort to assist householders in fuel poverty.
For example, Council is working in partnership with the Public Health Agency, the Housing Executive and community and voluntary organisations on the issue and Council has now entered into a service level agreement with Bryson Energy to engage with householders in fuel poverty so that they can provide a range of assistance measures to them; Council is also exploring saving schemes for District wide use and have joined up with the 'Fuel Poverty Coalition' in lobbying government for the full resourcing its New Fuel Poverty Strategy.
However, it is clear that urgent initiatives are required at a wider governmental levels to impact on the wider fuel poverty issue:
Sinn Féin MLAs has been meeting with energy companies lobbying for the introduction of social tariff schemes so that reduced pricing can be put on place for those on low incomes through adopting a joined up approach with the Assembly Executive and we are continuing to push this approach. Sinn Fein is also seeking money to be made available from the Executive's Social Protection Fund to enable fuel payments be made for people receiving cancer treatments.
Sinn Féin has also weighed in fully behind the Age Sector Platform's Campaign to force the Tory led government to reverse its disastrous decision to reduce Winter Fuel Payment's for people aged between 60 and 80 by £50 and those over 80 by £100.
The unprecedented levels of fuel poverty are as a direct result big oil companies artificially inflating
The most fundamental issues that needs to be addressed in tackling fuel poverty is how the big oil giants are artificially inflating prices at source while not only maintaining but increasing profits. This con job must be forcefully challenged at governmental level internationally but the British government must also be forced to introduce fuel price stabilizers particularly in light of the disproportionately high levels of fuel poverty now existing in the six counties. ENDS