I first began to notice it last winter when going to and coming from work. It took a while to make the connection, which may relate to a combination of the time I have to get up to go to work and that grim pre-serious coffee state of mind. It ties in with cold snaps and also the housing stock – the ‘it’ in question is the smell of wood smoke. When it is particularly cold the smell of wood smoke in certain parts of Newport and Treforest can be overwhelming in both the morning and the early evening.
The smell of wood smoke rather than a sign of affluence is a sign of austerity. It’s a sign that people are up against it when it comes to heating their homes and trying to save money. If you are lucky enough to live in an older house, anything pre- 1970’s then you may be lucky enough to still have old fireplaces in situ, which are so I observe increasingly being put back into operation. The increased demand for firewood, may explain what a few friends have said in recent years about periodic spikes in the price of firewood.
Rather than affluence i.e. wood burners, this is a visible symptom of austerity. More people are struggling to pay their heating bills and are being reduced to making a grim choice or heat or eat, but does not need to be this way. In Wales we pay on average 5-10% more for our energy than elsewhere and some 30% of households are living with fuel poverty.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to re-open an old fireplace and make use of an alternative source of heating or well off enough not to have to worry about your heating bills then there is a fair chance that you are living in one of our urban areas. For people who live in rural areas, then for a start they are not on mains gas – energy bills can be pretty grim for urban residents.
The situation is even worse for those customers living in rural areas who are off the mains gas supply. Here it can literally come down to a choice of leaving the heating off to save money and choosing to put food on. In Wales around 400,000 customers are not on mains gas, and they often face higher energy prices having very little consumer protection.
Plaid Cymru wants to speed up the government’s slow commitment to provide mains gas for households. At this rate it would take approximately 100 years to get those within a 1km of the grid linked up. People can’t afford their heating bills now – we need to act more quickly. They are asking people who want mains gas to come forward and sign up to the campaign at www.offgridcymru.org so that they can press for action on their behalf.