A local councillor has hit out at Antrim Council for “scare-mongering” the elderly and those facing fuel poverty after leaflets were sent out warning people could be prosecuted for not using ‘smokeless fuels’.
Councillor Trevor Clarke said on one hand, the council was funding bonfires, while on the other warning residents living in smoke control areas they could face fines of up to £1,000.
During last week’s full council meeting, Cllr. Clarke said he’d received a number of calls including one from a lady who was “scared to light her fire” as a result.
“The irony is we are still funding bonfires and I do not think it is the time to be picking on vulnerable people,” Cllr. Clarke said.
Cllr. Clarke said that those living in smoke control areas were required to burn smokeless coal but that these are “20 per cent dearer”.
Cllr. Clarke said that the smoke control areas were no longer as relevant, adding they had been brought in at a time when there was a lot of heavy industry.
“Unfortunately, we do not have that any more,” Cllr. Clarke said.
He added that he would hate to see anyone too scared to heat their home, particularly in the cold weather and over the Christmas period.
“People should be able to continue to burn coal to heat their homes; I don’t want to see people sitting cold and miserable over Christmas,” Cllr. Clarke said.
Councillor Adrian Watson, chair of the council’s Environment and Borough Services committee, said the council had “scored an own goal” over sending out the leaflets.
“Legally, we were quite right,” Cllr. Watson said.
He added: “There will be no prosecutions.
“There hasn’t been any prosecutions in this borough, or Belfast or Ballymena for that matter.
“It is something we will have to revisit but I don’t think there is any chance of any prosecutions in the near future.
“We don’t want to see anybody in fuel poverty at this time.”
Cllr. Alan Lawther said the council should be “encouraging people to move towards smokeless fuels”.
He said that on average over a year, it would work out at £30 less to use smokeless fuels, adding they burn for longer and give out more heat.
Cllr. Noel Maguire said he was sympathetic to the environmental arguments but said that not everyone could budget over the year for smokeless fuels.
He also called for the a re-evaluation of the smoke control zones.
Speaking to the Times after the meeting, Cllr. Watson moved to assure residents once again that there would be no prosecutions, adding that people should not be afraid to heat their homes.