Bonfires and Smoke Nuisance
A bonfire can be a convenient way of getting rid of a large amount of waste. But the smoke and smell from a bonfire can upset your neighbours, prevent them from having their windows open, using their garden or hanging their washing out.
Think about it - do you really need a bonfire?
A bonfire releases pollutants such as carbon monoxide and dioxins into the air that are damaging to local air quality and to human health. They have a particularly acute effect on asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions, children and the elderly. Is a bonfire really the best way to dispose of your waste?
What do I do with my waste then?
Household waste should always be disposed of through the household waste collection service. For further information please contact Environmental Care on 01536 410333.
But I really want a bonfire!
If a bonfire is the most practicable and environmentally friendly way to dispose of dry garden waste (for example, diseased plant material that cannot be composted), follow the steps below to avoid complaint and/or an enforcement visit from a Council Officer:
- Warn your neighbours well in advance. They are much less likely to complain. This gives them a chance to bring washing in and/or close doors and windows.
- Make sure you locate your bonfire as far away from neighbouring properties (and fences) as possible.
- Think about the weather conditions, will the wind blow the smoke directly onto your neighbours house?
- Avoid burning when people are likely to want to enjoy their gardens, weekends and early evenings for example.
- NEVER leave your bonfire unattended . You risk a visit from the Fire Brigade and being billed for their call out fee. Make sure you have a means of extinguishing the fire if it gets out of hand.
- Only burn dry materials and NEVER EVER burn old tyres, foam, painted or other treated wood such as MDF, chipboard or any kind of plastic.
- NEVER use petrol or lighter fluid to light the fire or encourage it to burn.
If you follow these guidelines it is unlikely your bonfire will give your neighbours cause for complaint.
What if my neighbour is having a bonfire, should I approach them to put it out?
If you're bothered by smoke from your neighbours bonfire, approach your neighbour and explain the situation. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware they are causing you a problem. They can't put things right if they don't know something is bothering you.
Action by the Council
If your neighbour doesn't respond well, contact Environmental Health either using the online form or on 01536 410333. Officers will offer advice on whether a formal investigation is appropriate. You may be asked to keep a diary to see how often the bonfires cause you a problem. A one off or occasional bonfire is not generally actionable by the Council. It may be an inconvenience to you but it is unlikely to constitute a statutory nuisance. Under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".
In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a regular problem that unreasonably interferes with the use and enjoyment of your property. If the bonfires occur often enough and affect your use and enjoyment of your home enough to be a statutory nuisance, the Council will serve an abatement Notice requiring certain steps to be taken. Breach of that Notice may result in prosecution so the Council can and will take bonfire complaints very seriously.
Taking your own action
If the Council does not think there is enough evidence to take action, the same Legislation allows you to take your own private action in the Magistrates Court. Similarly if you are being troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance investigation by the Council would be difficult as there are several offenders. In this situation encourage them to consider the alternatives - you can download a copy of our information leaflet and give it to them.
What about smoke from barbecues?
This would be dealt with by the Council in the same way as smoke from bonfires.
You can download our advice leaflet on Bonfires and Smoke Nuisance for more information.
Last updated 14/03/2014