The Environment Act 2021, which became law on 9th November, will remove the partial exemption for vessels from the Clean Air Act 1993. Local authorities will now have the power to apply their Smoke Control Areas to vessels moored within the areas, under Section 73 and Schedule 12 of the Act.
CRT and other navigation authorities have been asked to provide contact information for boat owners to local authorities where they need it to enforce Smoke Control Areas. There is an exemption for smoke which is created to propel the vessel or to generate electricity. There is no exemption for heating. Local authorities can now impose fines of at least £175 for breaches of Smoke Control regulations.
The NBTA understands from the answer to a Parliamentary Question in the House of Lords that the use of the power to bring inland waterway boats into the ambit of Smoke Control Areas will be subject to public consultation by local authorities. However, the DEFRA Minister who made that statement on 22nd March 2021 was the anti-liveaboard campaigner Lord Zac Goldsmith, who was part of a vicious campaign by wealthy residents in his Richmond upon Thames constituency to drive Bargee Travellers out of Richmond. This implies that any consultation will favour local residents and that local authorities will not make any effort to obtain itinerant boat dwellers’ opinions and comments on the impact and practicality of using these powers. In any case, there are significant barriers that prevent itinerant liveaboard boaters from taking part in local consultations when they may only be resident in a local authority area for a few weeks at a time. See https://members.parliament.uk/member/3736/writtenquestions#expand-1300450
The NBTA advises all boaters to carry at least one bag of smokeless fuel in case you unexpectedly find that you are moored in a Smoke Control Area. You can still use your existing stove.
In some Smoke Control Areas, the use of a small quantity of clean dry kindling to start a fire is allowed, but after this, only “approved fuel” can be used. Smokeless fuels are approved by DEFRA. Wood, timber or logs cannot be used for heating in a Smoke Control Area unless you use a DEFRA-certified stove (also known as an exempted appliance), and only burn good quality, dry wood. Non-exempted appliance users can only burn approved solid fuels. See https://www.gov.uk/smoke-control-area-rules
There are lists of DEFRA-approved smokeless fuels and DEFRA-approved stoves for England, Wales and Scotland here https://smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/index.php
The NBTA is extremely concerned about this development. Unlike houses, boat dwellers do not generally have an alternative way of heating their homes. We rely on our stoves to keep warm in winter; without them our homes would effectively become uninhabitable. In addition, liveaboard boaters will have no way of telling whether they are in a Smoke Control Zone or not, as these zones are not generally signposted either at the boundaries or elsewhere. Boaters could enter a Smoke Control Zone with their stove alight, not knowing that smoke controls are in force or that they have crossed a local authority boundary, and be fined, especially if they have no smokeless fuel on board.
Itinerant liveaboards may be unable to comply everywhere they travel because the regulations regarding Smoke Control Areas may vary between local authorities and the regulations regarding exempted appliances and approved fuels are slightly different in England, Scotland and Wales. Indeed, boaters may well be unaware that there has been any change in the law. In addition, boaters do not usually have an alternative to using kindling to light their stoves. Many liveaboard boaters, especially those who rely on collecting fallen wood for heating, cannot afford to heat their homes with smokeless fuel, which can be significantly more expensive than other fuel. However the percentage of boaters and the proportion of emissions they cause compared to the general population are minuscule given their relative numbers.
There is a danger that this will be used as a tool to remove boats from areas where the local authorities are opposed to boat dwellers, or where local residents are hostile to liveaboard boaters.
The NBTA is seeking meetings with both DEFRA and the Local Government Association with a view to developing guidance for local authorities on how to avoid a disproportionate adverse impact on itinerant boat dwellers being created by smoke control regulations; how to ensure consultations on Smoke Control Zones reach itinerant populations; and how to ensure boaters can tell when they are entering a Smoke Control Zone.
In London, all of the London boroughs are Smoke Control Areas apart from a few outlying boroughs like Bromley and Hillingdon, where most of the borough is a Smoke Control Area.
Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets councils already have pages on their websites about smoke and emissions from boats, and are already advising boaters to burn only DEFRA-approved fuels. These local authorities are the most likely to immediately take punitive action against smoke emissions from moored boats.
The Environment Act 2021 is online here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/30/contents/enacted