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Garden Bonfires

Bonfires can be very irritating to your neighbours. Smoke stops people from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out. It also reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads.

If the type of domestic property you live in is suitable, it is perfectly legal to have a bonfire on your land and, contrary to popular belief, there are no restrictions as to what time of the day or day of the week you can have it on. There is, however, firm legislation in place which you must comply with to ensure that your bonfire does not contravene the Environmental Protection Act.

In addition to the legislation, its also important that you consider how the bonfire might affect your neighbours.

Should you be affected by smoke from garden bonfires and If you require our help please contact us.

Tell us:

  • Your Name, Address, and a contact telephone number
  • The address the bonfire originates from
  • A description of the type of material being burnt,
  • Whether this problems is a single event, or occurs regularly
  • When the problems started, or if a regular occurrence typical problems times
  • The nature of the problems which the bonfire/smoke is causing

We will advise you of the reference number of your report, which you should quote if you contact us again about this matter.

Legal Controls on Garden Bonfires

Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 identifies certain matters as Statutory Nuisances. These including noise, accumulations or deposits, dust, smoke, and odour. The team investigates complaints involving allegations of nuisance and takes appropriate action to abate substantiated claims of nuisance.

Nuisance is difficult to define but as a general rule, it can be thought of as an unlawful interference of the use or enjoyment of premises.

If Officers are satisfied that a complaint of statutory nuisance is justified, an Abatement Notice will be served upon the person responsible, occupier or owner of the premises (as appropriate) requiring that the nuisance be abated. Failure to comply with an Abatement Notice is an offence and legal proceedings may result. Please see ‘how we investigate complaints’.

The Act applies to all premises. Our officer may serve an abatement notice if they are satisfied that there is a statutory nuisance. This includes:-

  • Smoke emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance; or
  • Fumes or gases emitted so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance; or
  • 'Smell' arising on industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance.

You could be liable to the following fines if you do not comply with an abatement notice:

  • Industrial / commercial premises - maximum fine £20,000;
  • Domestic premises - maximum fine £5,000.

What’s wrong with having a bonfire?

Burning waste on a bonfire makes smoke, especially if it is damp and smoldering. This smoke contains pollutants such as carbon monoxide, dioxins and fine particles. Burning plastic, rubber or painted material not only creates an unpleasant smell but a range of poisonous compounds.

What is smoke nuisance?

Smoke which amounts to a nuisance can be either continuous, or intermittent, but in either case the effect on your comfort or quality of life must be a material one and your response to the smoke must be wholly reasonable.

Health effects

Smoke from bonfires can cause health problems in people vulnerable to poor air quality. You will suffer no serious harm if you are only briefly exposed to bonfire smoke, but anyone suffering from asthma, bronchitis or heart conditions may be more affected.

What's the alternative to a bonfire?

Composting, recycling and collection are alternatives to burning rubbish on a bonfire. For example you can:

  • compost garden waste which can produce a useful soil conditioner and also help to save you money;
  • take domestic waste to a council disposal site, such as the civic amenity site at Leycett.
  • consider asking our Waste Management Department to remove your rubbish. You can contact us to arrange the collection or obtain further advise.

Our Advice

If you do decide to have a bonfire, In addition to the legislation, its also important that you consider how the bonfire might affect your neighbours as this issue can cause many disputes.

We do have a duty to investigate complaints of smoke nuisance and, if smoke is causing a statutory nuisance, we have a duty to serve an Abatement Notice. So, we have come up with the following guidelines for having garden bonfires, which may reduce the likelihood of complaints. We still have a duty to investigate, even if you have followed this advice.

  • only burn dry material;
  • never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint;
  • never use old engine oil, meths or petrol to light a bonfire;
  • don't light a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening. If it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours gardens and across roads;
  • don't burn at weekends or on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens;
  • never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary.
  • As a general guideline, don’t light your bonfire any later than one hour before dusk and far better do it in the morning or early afternoon.
  • You need to think carefully about whereabouts in your garden you are going to situate your bonfire because, not only do you need to consider your neighbours; any kind of fire can be extremely dangerous if not managed properly. Keep any bonfire well out of the way of windows, trees, fences, hedges and other combustible materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can I have a bonfire?

Having an occasional bonfire is allowed but it is advisable to contact all the neighbours surrounding your property to warn them. Since it is difficult to tell how far the smoke, ash and smell will travel it is best to let as many people know as possible.
Things that definitely should not be burnt on a bonfire include:-
- Household rubbish
- Plastics
- Rubber Tyres
- Damp Material eg plant matter and cardboard.
If possible please dispose of your rubbish in a more environmentally friendly way the options include composting, reusing, using the garden waste collection scheme and using the community recycling centre and tip.

Q. Is there a time of day when bonfires aren’t allowed?

There is no restriction on the time of day when bonfires can be lit as there is no bylaw in Newcastle under Lyme. We recommend that people choose a time that will affect their neighbours the least and avoid early evenings since the temperature inversion keeps the smoke from dispersing properly

Q. Builders and Businesses are they allowed to burn?

It is an offence to cause dark of black smoke from any trade or industrial premises. This offence also applies to any material burned in connection with any industrial or trade process and to the burning of material likely to give rise to dark smoke. See smoke controls and air pollution.

Q. My neighbour keeps having a bonfire. The smoke fills my garden and house, what should I do?

First, try to discuss your concerns with your neighbour or try writing a polite letter (remember to keep a copy). If no improvement occurs, start gathering evidence. Photos (digital or otherwise) are always useful. Next register your complaint with the Environmental Health Department in writing, by email or telephone. We will then make contact with the person being complained about and begin an investigation. If a “statutory nuisance” is confirmed, then an abatement notice preventing further nuisance can be served. Failure to comply with an abatement notice is a criminal offence.

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