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Notes from an Environmental Health Officer

"Smokeless zones do NOT deal in any way with smoke from bonfires. Smokeless zones are an area in which only smokeless fuel can be burnt (in domestic or commercial properties - for heating or commercial purposes). For example, using house coal in a smokeless zone is illegal, as would be burning unseasoned wood. Dry wood or smokeless coal (phurnacite) would be ok. There is nothing at all in this legislation which relates to bonfires. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 also does not have any bearing on bonfires, unless they are on a building site, where they can be prohibited by the council via section 60.

Certain wood waste, such as wood with dry rot and other infestations can be burnt quite legally on most sites. In fact it is stipulated that these must be incinerated.

There is no law saying that bonfires are illegal. However, Smoke from a bonfire (or any other process of burning) can be considered a Statutory nuisance and as such can be dealt with under the environmental protection act 1990. Your local Authority MUST deal with stat. nuisances, and this act states that the Local Authority SHALL serve notice to abate a statutory nuisance where they know or have reason to believe that a nuisance exists or is likely to exist. You will have to show that the nuisance is substantial though. In my experience, a bonfire more than once a month could be considered a stat nuisance is there was copious smoke which was causing you to shut windows. In fact, just the fact that you have to go indoors and cannot enjoy your garden is enough, but again, it would have to be quite regular for it to be considered a problem. Once every few months would probably not be considered a nuisance.

Barbecue smoke can also be considered a nuisance, again, only if it is very regular and the smoke is very bad, but I have dealt with a case where I served a notice on a house of students who had barbeques every night, and I also know of cases where people have had action taken against them for cooking over fires in their gardens.

To be a Public Nuisance, the smoke needs to affect a whole section of a community, in the sense that the public lose the enjoyment of a public park or some other public area. There is an interesting debate on public nuisance surrounding the Wandsworth Council vs rail track - Balham Bridge case. Part of our argument in the case is that the pigeons on the bridge cause a public nuisance as the local community cannot walk under the bridge without experiencing a nuisance.

Just one more thing, the Highways Acts state that it is an offence for smoke from a bonfire to drift onto a public highway. If this is the case, contact the police."


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