Bonfires can cause harm and aggravation to both the environment and people. They can also be a health risk to sufferers of asthma, bronchitis and the very young and old due to the dangerous particles contained in bonfire smoke. Bonfires also cause air pollution as the smoke contains pollutants including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but it also produces a range of poisonous compounds.
Bonfires are often seen as a convenient way to dispose of unwanted rubbish but there are better alternatives that are safer and do less environmental damage. Composting waste or using a green waste bin to recycle garden waste is a better solution.
If you have household furniture or appliances you can arrange for the council to collect them or contact local voluntary groups as they are often happy to receive these items. For more information on these initiatives contact firstname.lastname@example.org or view the waste and recycling section using this link.
Contrary to popular belief there are no byelaws to control the lighting of bonfires. If you are going to light a bonfire do so responsibly and follow these steps:
- Take maximum fire precautions
- Check that conditions are not too windy
- Wind should ideally be blowing away from nearby dwellings
- Keep the bonfire under control and supervised at all times
- Carry out the burning as quickly as possible
- Use dry material and minimise smoke
- Do not burn any rubber, plastics, oil, damp garden waste or other materials, which create heavy, smoke or toxic fumes
- Advise your closest neighbours before you light a bonfire so they can be prepared for any inconvenience it may cause
- Make sure that your neighbours do not have their washing out, or windows open or are enjoying their garden
Click the link for our leaflet on Bonfires and Smoke Nuisance
In addition any bonfire on trade premises that causes dark smoke is an offence, regardless of whether anybody else is affected (Section 2, 1993 Clean Air Act).
Click the link for our leaflet on Commercial Bonfires and Dark Smoke
If you think the bonfire is from a commercial premises please contact the Environmental Protection and Licensing Team on 01594 810000 or email email@example.com
Residential Garden Bonfires
It is always better to remedy a problem without involving the Council if it is at all possible. It is unfortunately the case that involving the Council’s enforcement team may permanently sour relations between you and your neighbour.
It is preferable to approach the person disturbing you when the nuisance has stopped, as you are more likely to react in a calm manner. We would suggest that you politely explain why this is a problem for you and how it is affecting you, i.e. smoke smuts & smell on washing & inside house etc. If you are not confident enough to approach your neighbour directly you can always ask a friend or family member to do this on your behalf, or you could write your neighbour a letter. You may find this difficult but often people are unaware that they are causing a problem and most will be glad to do what they can to reduce the disturbance. If you think that your neighbour might react aggressively to a complaint you should approach this carefully and possibly not on your own.
If you have tried to resolve the matter informally but are still having problems with your neighbour’s bonfires then you can contact the Private Sector Housing Team to make a formal complaint. We will need your contact details as well as the address details of where the bonfires occur.
The Council has a duty to investigate all complaints of nuisance in their area, which includes bonfire smoke. However, often what you would consider to be a nuisance from a bonfire may not be a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. To constitute a statutory nuisance the smoke would need to drift across your home on a regular basis.
When considering a statutory nuisance, the Council needs to establish how often the alleged nuisance occurs, i.e. once a week/month/year, and how long the alleged nuisance occurs for, the time of day / night, whether it lasts a few minutes or several hours and the type of smoke. Dark smoke (i.e. from plastics etc.) will almost inevitably amount to a nuisance because it contains chemicals that are prejudicial to health and has a very acrid odour.
If you make a complaint the nature of it will be discussed and you will be informed how the Council will deal with it. Unfortunately, these matters will not be resolved overnight, investigations can take several weeks/months. Initially a letter will be sent to the person you allege to be causing the nuisance advising them of your complaint to try and attempt a quick informal resolution to any problems that may exist.
If the initial letter fails to resolve the problem you can contact us and you will be sent diary sheets. The perpetrator will also receive a letter advising them they are being monitored. We will, in almost all cases, need you to complete diary sheets for a period of at least 3 weeks to support your complaint.
There are three reasons keeping this record: -
- To help us assess whether the smoke is likely to amount to a statutory nuisance;
- To indicate the times when an officer is more likely to witness the nuisance, and;
- With your consent the log sheet may be used as evidence should formal action prove necessary.
There are some occasions where we are unable to take formal action, either because the nuisance occurs intermittently or a statutory nuisance cannot be substantiated. If we decide that formal action cannot be taken, you will be advised accordingly.
We do always keep complainants’ details private as long as possible; but please do be aware that if in the event the Council take enforcement action that results in a prosecution it is impossible to keep your identity secret in Court. That said; very, very few cases end in Court action, and most are resolved either without our intervention, or using informal means only.
If you, nevertheless, wish to pursue your nuisance complaint, there are two alternative options:
- Taking action yourself in a Magistrates Court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. You will need to contact your local court to ask how to proceed but it is a good idea to write to the person causing the problem saying that unless the nuisance is stopped by a certain date you will be complaining to the Magistrates Court. Make sure any letter is dated and signed and keep an accurate copy. This may be enough to solve the problem or at least get it properly considered.
- Taking action yourself for a 'private nuisance', which involves your local County Court. This is a method which is best adopted after consulting a solicitor and relies on you proving on the balance of probabilities that your right to reasonable enjoyment of your property has been seriously affected.
Prior to taking any action you are advised to consult a solicitor. Remember that opposing arguments raised by the defence will have to be faced in court. Very often it is found that relations between neighbours are strained and that the nuisance complaint is just part of a greater and sometimes complicated dispute.
If you believe you have exhausted all other avenues to resolve the bonfire issue informally but the problem still exists, please contact the Private Sector Housing Team on 01594 810000.