Environment Act application of Smoke Control Areas to boats will not come into force until May 2022

The NBTA is lobbying DEFRA to provide guidance to local authorities on how to avoid injustice to Bargee Travellers in the application of Smoke Control Areas to boats. We have received a response from DEFRA, who have informed us that the legislation will not come into force until May 2022. The NBTA has put detailed proposals to DEFRA regarding the guidance. Please note that the qualifying period for boat owners to get financial help to replace any non-compliant appliances is three months, so Bargee Travellers are unlikely to qualify.

Jonathan Sturdy of DEFRA wrote:

“Thank you for your email regarding the Environment Act’s amendments to smoke control area rules and potential impact on boat dwellers.

The Environment Act makes changes to the Clean Air Act 1993 to enable quicker, simpler and more proportionate enforcement of smoke control areas, helping local authorities to reduce pollution from domestic burning. The key change is that local authorities in England will now be able to issue financial penalties to those emitting smoke from their chimney in a smoke control area. This will be achieved by replacing the criminal offence with a civil penalty regime. This change will ensure local authorities can avoid lengthy and costly court cases in enforcing smoke emissions.

In the first instance, if smoke is emitted from a chimney in a smoke control area, the local authority may issue a written warning to the liable person. If smoke is emitted again, the local authority can issue a notice of intent. If no objection is received within a 28-day period, or the objection is rejected, the local authority may issue a final notice imposing a financial penalty on the person.

With regard to boats in particular, the Act will enable local authorities to bring moored inland waterway vessels such as canal boats, into the scope of smoke control areas should they have a specific issue in their area. However, they will need to consult publicly before using this power. This has the potential to apply to boats burning diesel or other fuels if they are emitting smoke, for example because an appliance has not been properly maintained, but only while they are moored or stationary at a mooring place. As such, boat dwellers could not be fined for emitting smoke while entering a smoke control area as they would not be moored.

It is also important to note that in cases where moored vessels have been brought into scope of a smoke control area, the local authorities are required to reimburse owners or occupiers of vessels for works carried out to avoid incurring a financial penalty. The Environment Act sets out the criteria an owner or occupier of a vessel must meet in order to be eligible for reimbursement. For example, the vessel must have the right to moor at a single mooring place for the qualifying period, the owner or occupier must complete the adaptations prior to the coming into operation of the order, and the owner or occupier must not have access to mains gas or electricity.

We are in the process of developing guidance on the new smoke control area rules, which will be available once the legislation comes into force in May.”