Posted by: Matthew | October 18, 2010

The realities of rural burnoffs

Let’s face facts, and let’s not pretend that burning off in rural New Zealand isn’t a problem. The reality is that the laws and regulations on burning off are so weak and their enforcement so lax that there virtually are no limits to what people can and do burn off. The air in some districts can be foul some days, and if you are unlucky enough to live next door to a serial offender or three, who are complete and selfish, bullying bastards, and won’t stop burning just because you don’t like the smoke, you’re out of luck, because no one is going to help. Not the police, not the local council permit and regulation folk, not the regional council environment officers, not the courts. No one. The only people who can help are real estate agents. But let’s examine how people in New Zealand actually behave.

Firstly they’ll burn anything. They will dispose of their household rubbish in fires. They will burn plastic. It is actually against the law to burn plastic, and even when caught red handed it is hard to get the regional councils to prosecute. The owner of this fire pit still has plastic in their firepit, but have concealed it under tree cuttings pretending the plastic isn’t there anymore, and the regional council is happy to pretend that there isn’t any plastic under there too.

And on the other side of me there is more concealed plastic in their burn off pile. And even though a crime will be committed that isn’t reason enough for either the local council or regional council to order them not to burn the fire.

And when they’re not burning plastic they’re burning trees en masse. Here is a picture of a fire that burnt for six days and nights, and even though the local permits prohibit fires from burning after sunset, there was no prosecution even though it filled my house with smoke.

And the volumes of rubbish that some people think they can burn and pretend that they won’t pollute. Look at this huge rubbish pile dwarfing the cow standing nearby. It’s at least 30 feet tall. The pile, not the cow.

And what really gets my goat is that the permits usually state that the fires may not cause smoke or odour nuisance beyond the property boundary, but in reality every fire creates smoke and odour nuisance beyond property boundaries. It is impossible to have a burnoff that doesn’t break the rules. But there is just about no point complaining as the compliance and monitoring teams seem to be staffed by ideologues who are dedicated to protecting the rights of polluters to pollute, and they’ll just ignore people who think that the smoke is annoying, the system is broken, and that there is something very, very wrong with how New Zealand society works. New Zealand is not clean and green. New Zealand is profoundly backwards and unjust.

In Pauatahanui the other morning, like at 8 am. The whole of the Horokiwi Valley and all the houses up the valley were completely smoked out. Their houses would have been uninhabitable for the duration, and according to some people, they would have had no right to complain.

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