Strabane’s Chief Environmental Health Officer has said the Council has no plans to call for a lifting of the ban on coal fires - despite the revelation that 80% of residents in the town are experiencing fuel poverty.
Paddy Cosgrove said that Council were facing a ‘real dilemma’ about what to do, but had ultimately to protect the air quality in the Tyrone Town which meant a continuation of the ban on smoky fuels.
“This goes back to the reason the ban on smokey fuels was introduced in the first place.
“At the time the air quality in Strabane was very poor, in fact it was the poorest in the UK.”
The ban was introduced in April, 2007 following the revelation that smoke concentration above Strabane was above the higher safety limits set by the EC and the UK’s National Air Quality. Mr Cosgrove said the council had taken a number of steps in the intervening years to try and help people switch from burning smoky fuels, but that no one could have forseen the increase in oil prices in the intervening years.
“Coal was used as a major domestic fuel at that time and we went on a campaign to replace coal with oil fired central heating, but obviously since then the price of oil has spiralled due to speculation on the international market.
“We are very aware of the difficulties people are facing at the moment and of the levels of fuel poverty which is why the council has agreed to join the Fuel Poverty Coalition to address the issue head on. What we don’t want to do is lose the prize of good air quality, which does create a big dilemma for us.”
He added: “The issue of air control is something we do have control over.
“We do not have control over the issue of fuel poverty. There have been calls for a strategy to be set up to deal with fuel poverty no budget set aside to do this.
“What we are doing is trying to work with local residents and the NIHE to try and improve energy efficiency in homes and offer what support and advice we can.”
Mr Cosgrove said he wished to clarify that the burning of coal was not banned entirely in Strabane, and that the ban only extended to smoky fuels and that people are still free to burn smokeless coals.
He also called for greater transparency in how oil companies operate throughout the North and how they set their prices.
“There are a lot of issues which need to be address,” Mr Cosgrove said, adding that he wished to clarify that while Strabane Council can bring the issue back to the Department of the Environment for consideration, it was not within the council’s remit to overturn any ban.
Strabane Council have recently agreed to work alongside Bryson Energy to help people find more efficient ways to run their homes. He added that anyone who wanted information or advice on energy efficiency could contract Strabane Council in the first instance on 02871 382204.