Garden Bonfires

To make a complaint about Garden Bonfires use this online form

We are unable to provide an emergency call out service to deal with incidents which occur in the evening or at weekends, however, we will aim to respond during the next working day.

In this section:

Legal Control on garden bonfires

What’s wrong with having a bonfire?

What is smoke nuisance?

Health effects

What is the alternative to a bonfire?

Our advice

Frequently asked questions

Legal Control on garden bonfires

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 - Part III identifies certain matters as statutory nuisances. These include 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.

The act applies to all premises. An 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 - a criminal conviction and an unlimited fine
  • Domestic premises - a criminal conviction and a fine up to £5,000

What’s wrong with having a bonfire?

Burning waste on a bonfire makes smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering. 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 is the alternative to a bonfire?

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

Our advice

If you do decide to have a bonfire, in addition to the legislation it is 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, methylated spirits 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 where in your garden you are going to situate your bonfire. Not only do you need to consider your neighbours but 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?

A. 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 SHOULD NOT be burnt on a bonfire include:-

  • Household rubbish
  • Treated and painted timbers
  • Oils
  • Plastics
  • Rubber tyres
  • Damp material e.g. 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?

A. 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 drop in temperature keeps the smoke from dispersing properly.

Q. Builders and businesses – are they allowed to burn?

A. It is generally against the law to burn commercial waste. It is also an offence to cause dark or black smoke from any trade or industrial premises. See commercial burning page.

Garden Bonfire Complaints

Year Number of Complaints Received
2016 20
2017 18
2018 8
2019 25
2020 163

Last updated 12th May 2021

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