Government publishes its Environment Improvement Plan 2023

Five years ago, the 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) set out a vision for a quarter-of-a- century of action to help the natural world regain and retain good health. The plan said government would refresh the plan every five years, a commitment set into law in the Environment Act 2021. The Environment Improvement Plan represents the first such review of the 25YEP. It reinforces the intent of the 25YEP: where the 25YEP set out the framework and vision, the document sets out the plan to deliver.

To achieve its vision, the 25YEP set ten goals. Government has continued to use these ten goals as the basis for this document: setting out the progress made against all ten, the specific targets and commitments made in relation to each goal, and our plan to continue to deliver these targets and the overarching goals.

The goals contained in the plans include:

  • Goal 1 – thriving plants and wildlife
  • Goal 2 – clean air
  • Goal 3 – clean and plentiful water
  • Goal 4 – managing exposure to chemicals and pesticides
  • Goal 5 – maximise our resources, minimise out waste
  • Goal 6 – using resources from nature sustainably
  • Goal 7 – mitigating and adapting to climate change
  • Goal 8 – reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards
  • Goal 9 – enhancing biosecurity
  • Goal 10 – enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

Our industry focus on the plan is within goal 2, clean air. Air quality in the UK has improved significantly in recent decades with a decrease in all five major air pollutants.

Between 2010 and 2020 emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) decreased by 18%; emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) decreased by 44%; sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 70%, non- methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) by 14%, and ammonia (NH3) by 0.2%. These reductions have produced significant benefits for our health and environment.

To continue to drive down emissions government intends to focus on the most polluting sectors. Data from 2020 indicates that, in the UK, emissions from the home, agriculture, industry and transport combined contributed 85% of PM2.5, 87% of NO2 and 90% of NH3 emissions to the air.

The Environment Improvement Plan clearly states that the government is not considering a ban on domestic burning in England and it recognises that some households are reliant on solid fuel burning for heating, hot water and cooking. Additionally, a ban on domestic outdoor burning would be considered disproportionate.

Building on the 2019 Clean Air Strategy and Environment Act, the report outlines further measures relating to clean air and emissions from the home. These include:

  • Tighten the limits that new stoves in Smoke Control Areas must meet, reducing the limit from 5g of smoke per hour to a maximum of 3g.
  • Extend the solid fuels legislation, including to fuels burned outside. This would provide consistency in the market making it easier for consumers, improve compliance with legislation and improve air quality. This would not introduce new requirements for traditional fuels used for barbecues, such as charcoal.
  • Design and implement measures to drive a shift away from older, more polluting appliances, to newer appliances which meet our tough new emission standards.
  • Look at the option of extending the solid fuels legislation to fuels burnt outside – this would provide consistency in the market making it easier for consumers, improve compliance with legislation and improve air quality. This would not introduce new requirements for traditional fuels used for barbecues, such as charcoal.

Further to the plans, HETAS and Woodsure will continue to work with Defra and other organisations as they develop a targeted communications campaign to promote best practice use of wood stoves and fireplaces by utilising cleaner and more efficient fuels, and techniques to reduce exposure to pollutants. Advice Hubs on best practice are available on the HETAS and Woodsure websites.

Over the last twelve months HETAS has developed its product approval scheme to better support these government initiatives, and has implemented the Cleaner Choice certification scheme for stoves, boilers and biomass systems. Appliances listed on the scheme already demonstrate at least a 50% improvement on the current particulate limits for exemption, and would continue to do so against the new limits proposed when measured using the more robust test methodology recognised within the UK. This highlighting our commitment to identifying appliances that meet and exceed current particulate emission legislative requirements alongside safety, with a wide number of appliances now meeting the Cleaner Choice standard.

For fuels, Ready to Burn certified fuels have become recognised as the environmentally responsible choice when choosing fuels for immediate use in reducing our impacts on air quality. The Environment Improvement Plan identifies that burning a dry log can reduce emissions by 50% when compared to a log which has not been dried, and when burned in a Cleaner Choice appliance can reduce these impacts further. HETAS (for MSF) and Woodsure (for wood) will continue to administer the Ready to Burn certification schemes, ensuring listed fuels meet the necessary standards through independent assessment and promote cleaner burning.

HETAS and Woodsure look forward to further supporting government in achieving its goals outlined in the Environment Improvement Plan and the Environment Act. We will continue to work with and across, industry, consumers and Local Authorities to help achieve clean air objectives. In the short term we await the announcement of government reports including the Biomass Strategy, Defra’s Emissions of air pollutants report, Defra’s Air Quality Statistics report and the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI). Look out for further updates in HETAS newsletters, the website and across our social media channels.

HETAS and Woodsure, working together for a cleaner safer environment.

The complete Environment Improvement Plan 2023 is available to view on the government’s asset publishing website.

Coronavirus COVID-19

A message to all our customers:

We would like to reassure our customers that whilst we are still working, we take this very seriously and will be taking every precaution, following government guidelines.

Our engineers will wear gloves and masks, keeping their distance at all times, as we have been advised.

If at any time our staff begin to feel unwell, we will call you immediately to re-book the work required and we would respectfully ask that you do the same for us, in an effort to reduce the risk of infection.  Please follow the guidance on the Government and NHS websites:

We send our best wishes to all our valued customers.  Stay safe!

Defra’s Cleaner Fuels Announcement Explained

On Friday Defra announced their response on their cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood. The consultation took place between August and October 2018 and focused on England only. The proposals in the consultation included:

  • Restrictions on the sale of wet wood for domestic burning
  • Phasing out the sale of traditional house coal
  • Applying sulphur standards and smoke emission limits to all manufactured solid fuels

At Whites Chimneys and Stoves we say – In a nutshell there are no bans on having stoves but they are regulating the fuel that can be burned.

Read the full article here.

Ban on Wood Stoves

There has been a lot on the news lately, with headlines like, “Wood burning stoves to be banned.” But is this true?

SOURCE: HETAS (Click to read full article)

On the 22nd May 2018 the Environment Secretary Michael Gove published a Clean Air Strategy 2018. The good news is, Defra has clarified they are not looking to implement a ban on wood stoves.

Rather, the Clean Air Strategy summarises actions to reduce emissions from domestic burning, clearly identifying there is no intention to ban wood burning stoves. Here are the key points:

  1. Legislate to prohibit sale of the most polluting fuels.
  2. Ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022.
  3. Give new powers to local authorities to take action in areas of high pollution, bringing legislation into the 21st century with more flexible, proportionate enforcement powers.
  4. Work with industry to identify an appropriate test standard for new solid fuels entering the market.
  5. Ensure that consumers understand what they can do to reduce their impact from burning.

We have also had reassurance through members of the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) following their discussions with the government that there is no intention to ban the sale of any products prior to the introduction of the 2022 regulations, and they have gone further to say that this will only effect products manufactured after this date.

Whilst it is important to ensure that only the cleanest and most efficient stoves are supplied, it is also important to ensure that correct fuels are used.  To this end, there are a number of initiatives aiming to promote the use of clean and efficient fuels such as the Woodsure “Ready to Burn” scheme and the  government’s own list of Authorised Fuels

Interested in getting a clean wood burning stove? Please get in touch with our friendly team – Contact us today.

London Still Has Chimney Sweeps… We Met Three Of Them


“I think when you’re growing up in your teens, you don’t want to say you dad’s a chimney sweep. But when you start going to work, and people say ‘what do you do?’ you say ‘guess’. And they never guess what you do. And when you say ‘chimney sweep’, they’re like ‘I didn’t know that existed!'”.

David White (centre) and his sons Tony (left) and Ricky

Ricky White always wanted to be a sweep. There’s more than a hint of this in the picture he drew, aged 11, of his father — proudly titled “My dad”. “You really only become a chimney sweep because it’s in the family,” says Ricky.

“It’s not like you go to the career office, and come out a sweep,” chips in Tony White, Ricky’s older brother. The two are sat with their dad, David, in his surprisingly immaculate living room in Swanley (only later do we clock the black soot smudges around the door frames). All three work for Whites Chimney and Stoves, between them, covering much of south east London, Kent and parts of Surrey. Theirs may be a profession that peaked in Victorian London, but it lives on — and is now enjoying a semi-rebirth, as woodburners and fireplaces become de rigueur once more.

The picture Ricky drew of his dad, aged 11

Whites has been going since 1953, when David’s dad Tom (“a cross between Tony Hancock and Harold Steptoe, a snob at heart, but a lovable one”) accepted his true calling. “He had a good voice,” says David, “always singing while he was working.”

“For about six years he went into opera. And did piano playing. He was a frustrated musician. And frustrated singer. And frustrated chimney sweep!”

But soot’s been in the family blood longer than that; David’s grandmother’s side of the family — the Brooks — swept too. Her father, Tom Brooks may have sported a blackened face and hands, but he had a pure enough soul. He was a vestryman, not to mention a mouthpiece for the temperance movement in his native East End. So respected was Brooks in his day, he became Mayor of Bethnal Green in 1931.

David has been sweeping since 1970

There is a striking picture of Brooks as he walks the streets of the East End — his cap, face — even teeth coloured in with soot; his back bearing a bundle of rods; a gaggle of flat-capped onlookers gazing upon him like he’s some deity. Mayor of Bethnal Green he may have been, but Brooks never hung up the brushes. Indeed, the story goes that he was invited to a tea party at Buckingham Palace in his capacity as mayor, and still fulfilled his sweeping duties that morning. “I don’t know if he turned up at the palace looking like a sweep!” laughs Tony.

Brooks was apparently responsible for moving Brick Lane’s Sunday market from the northern end — something that didn’t go down well with all the locals. If it hadn’t been for who Brooks was, Tony suggests, he’d have been beaten up.

“The villains, the gangs — they all respected him,” says Tony, “He wasn’t frightened of them. He’d sit outside his house on a Sunday, and people would come up to him and debate things with him.”

While Tom Brooks probably swept 10 chimneys or so a day on the same road, Whites cast the net much further. “We’ve got vans, whereas he would have walked to a house with his rods, cleaned the chimley, walked to the next house round the corner,” says Tony. (“Chimley” and “chimney” are interchangeable in the family’s parlance, although when we point this out, they say they’ve never noticed).

But has anything in the nature of the actual sweeping changed?

“Sweeping has always been rods and brushes”, says Tony, “but the equipment’s got better”. The modern, tough plastic brushes (David keeps an old horsehair brush for nostalgia’s sake, and sometimes lends it out to kids for school fancy dress) are fitted to a power drill — so you can clean at a zippier rate. A vacuum also helps stop soot and dust escape around the room.

The old horsehair brush that David keeps for nostalgia’s sake. David remembers the days when you would send kids out onto the street to watch the chimney, and shout when they saw the brush poke out of the top

That doesn’t stop customers being paranoid; “Sometimes you’re filthy dirty and you stink of soot,” says Tony, “and you turn up in someone’s house and they may say to you straight away ‘are you going to make a mess?'”

“Tom may have come along and made a load of mess. Where as nowadays, we can’t get away with it. You’re expected to keep the soot and dust contained.”

So in all their years on the job they’ve never created a Laurel and Hardy-style scene? “Out of the hundreds and thousands of chimneys, you’re going to get one or two that are a disaster,” admits Tony, “You never know till you clean a chimney, how bad it’s going to be.”

This prompts David to remember a job in Sutton years ago, where the vacuum bag had been perforated. “Tony didn’t know it was happening,” laughs David. “The bloke, he had a temper. He’d gone out, left us to it — he come in the room, and he just went like that [mimics touching dust with fingers]… and then he went bananas. He said ‘I hope you’re insured.'”

“He was so angry, he walked down the garden to cool off and I thought ‘that’s just what we need’ and we went bananas with the hand brushes, all round the room. And in 10 minutes, it was amazing what we done. I was panicking at the same time though.”

Archaic traditions must keep up with the times.

But as chimney sweeps, they still get covered in soot? “Only on a good day, yeah,” says Tony, “If you come home clean, your wife will say ‘why are you clean?'”

While sweeping may be the bread and butter of the business, each generation has branched out, adding news skills to the portfolio. The proliferation of gas boilers in the 1970s triggered a steep decline in real fireplaces, yet rising gas and oil prices have since put woodburning stoves back in the picture. Of course, these, and open fires, are back in vogue too. “The difference with our life now,” says Tony, “is we have something because we want it. Whereas they had it because they needed it — they had no central heating.”

“You had to have a coal fire, otherwise there was no heating. These days it’s a luxury, there’s a romantic side.”

Ironically, Whites also specialise in the structural job of taking chimneys out. Not everybody needs them. “However,” says David, “we often reinstate chimneys back to how they were before they were taken out perhaps 30 or 40 years previous. Or, from time to time we actually build a chimney or install a flue system, normally on the outside of a house, if we are fitting a stove or fireplace if the house has not been built with a chimney flue.”

The act of sending young boys up the chimneys might have long been banished — but both Tony and Ricky know a couple of lads they hope will continue their business.

“My son, Harry, is leaving school next week,” says Tony, “and my brother’s got a son leaving in about six years time. They’re the next generation. My boy’s strong and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. You’re either that way or you’re not.”

Whites, it would seem, are always that way.