Waste, Recycling, Environment

Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Tuesday, November 15 2011


The Environmental Health Service receives many complaints each year about the nuisance caused by bonfires. Nuisance fires can originate in various places, from domestic and commercial premises to farms and allotments.  Bonfires contribute to air pollution and bonfire smoke can have damaging health effects, especially to people with existing respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis or heart conditions.  Bonfires may also cause nuisance to others if they are prevented from enjoying their gardens, hanging out washing, opening windows and so on. 

It is a common misconception that it is OK to have a bonfire at certain times of the day or that bonfires are covered by byelaws.  The fact is that domestic bonfires are permitted at any time of day provided that they don’t cause nuisance to others.

Bonfires and the Law

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that complaints made about ‘smoke emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance’ must be investigated by the Local Authority.  If the Local Authority finds such complaints to be justified, action must then be taken to abate the nuisance and prevent its recurrence.  This would normally be done by serving a Nuisance Abatement Notice on the person responsible for the nuisance and if the nuisance continues, prosecution is likely to follow.

Any bonfire on commercial premises which gives rise to dark or black smoke is an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993.  It is also an offence to take any commercial waste home and burn it or to dispose of domestic waste in a way likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.

What to do if you are bothered by bonfires

If you are able to do so, approach your neighbour and politely let them know that their bonfire is causing you nuisance.  You may feel awkward but it might encourage them to be more considerate, and reduce the likelihood of a bad relationship in the long term.  You may also find that they did not realise they were causing a problem. 

If this fails, report the matter to the Environmental Health Service and an Officer will discuss the matter with you and investigate your complaint.  You will need to tell the Officer the exact address where the bonfires occur as we will send them a letter advising them of their obligation not to cause a nuisance (your personal details will not be divulged without your permission).  Bonfires which are extreme or frequent in nature may be considered to be a Statutory Nuisance and formal action is possible if this can be proven.  Such evidence will be harder to obtain in the case of occasional bonfires, so formal action will be less likely.

If the investigation is inconclusive or does not prove the existence of a Statutory Nuisance, the Council will be unable to take action.  In these circumstances, you may be able to take private action in the Magistrate’s Court.  Your Case officer will be able to offer advice on how to go about this.

What’s the alternative?


Compost bins are cheap and produce a useful and free supply of soil conditioner.  For more information on home composting log on to www.recyclenow.com or call them on 0845 077 0757.


You can dispose of all your green waste for free at a number of waste amenity sites around the Borough but you will have to get the waste there yourself.  A list of sites together with opening times and contact details is shown below.  If you wish to deliver your household garden waste in a commercial vehicle, you will need to register the vehicle at the amenity site before you can dispose of any waste.

Green waste collection service

If you prefer, the Council now offers a weekly collection of compostable waste to the whole Borough for a modest annual charge.  The waste that is collected is commercially composted, which in addition to being more environmentally sustainable, further reduces the Council’s reliance on expensive landfill. 

Special collections 

The Council also offers a collection service for larger items.  There will normally be a charge for this service.  Please telephone 023 8068 8440 for more information or to arrange a collection.

If you must have a bonfire you should follow a few simple rules:

  • Look out for unfavourable weather conditions.  High winds can blow smoke close to the ground.  Still evenings and damp days can allow smoke to accumulate and hang in the air
  • Avoid burning at weekends and Bank Holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens.
  • Watch out for neighbours washing and open windows
  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, tyres, plastic, paint, roofing felt etc or anything that might give rise to dark smoke
  • Be careful not to set fire to anything nearby
  • Do not leave a bonfire unattended or leave it to smoulder.  Put it out instead.
  • Highways Act 1980

Anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road may be committing an offence under the Highways Act 1980.  The Council have no powers in this case but the Police will take action if there is a potential danger to road users.

Waste Amenity and Recycling Centres

For more information or to report a nuisance bonfire contact the Environmental Health Service

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