Each year the Council and the fire brigade receive many complaints about people having garden bonfires or disposing of waste at home by burning it. Many of the problems caused are completely avoidable.
Whilst having a garden bonfire is not necessarily against the law, if you are only burning garden material (e.g. branches and twigs), the smoke can be a nuisance to people. This is when the Council has a legal responsibility to ensure that this nuisance is stopped.
It is also important to remember to never dispose of your household waste by burning it in your garden (e.g. waste arising from DIY/building renovations or waste that would normally go into your bin). This can be against the law.
Much of the borough is a smoke control area but this does not affect garden bonfires as it only relates to smoke from chimneys. Find out more information about smoke control areas.
Domestic bonfires and the law
There are a number of laws that may cover garden fires depending on what is being burnt and the effect the smoke has:
Smoke Nuisance (Environmental Protection Act 1990) - If smoke, smell or ash causes a recurring or major problem in a neighbouring property or garden the Council may serve a legal notice. Failure to comply may result in prosecution.
Burning Household Waste (Environmental Protection Act 1990) - Burning domestic waste that would normally go into your burgundy or recycling bin e.g. plastics, furniture or rubber items, can be an offence and it may result in prosecution and a fine.
Cable Burning (Clean Air Act 1993) - The Council will prosecute anybody caught burning plastic covered cable with a view to recovering the metal. This will result in a fine of up to £5000.00.
Highways Act - Anyone lighting a fire could be fined if smoke drifts across a road and endangers traffic. This is enforced by the Police.
To stay on the right side of the law, think twice before burning and dispose of your waste by alternative means.
Burning rubbish/garden bonfires
Fires pose a serious danger and can cause death, injury or damage to people’s property. Each year the Fire and Rescue Service attends many incidents caused by deliberate fires that get out of control.
Smoke creates pollution - the burning of waste materials like plastic, rubber or painted wood, damages our health. The fumes are particularly harmful to children, elderly and people with breathing problems (such as asthma or bronchitis).
We are all responsible for the air we breathe and having a fire when it is not necessary makes air quality worse.
Smoke spoils people’s lives - preventing neighbours from enjoying their gardens, hanging washing out or opening their windows.
Other ways of disposal
There are several other ways of disposing of garden waste without burning it and we would urge you to consider the advice provided before having a garden bonfire.
Some materials can be composted at home or placed in your brown bin if you are part of our green waste collection scheme.
Using a chiminea or firepit
If you have a chiminea or fire pit, please make sure that you use an appropriate fuel such as clean and untreated wood, smokeless fuel or charcoal. Don’t burn waste.
Please remember that the frequent use of a chiminea or a fire pit is more likely to be a smoke nuisance whilst occasional reasonable use is unlikely to cause neighbours any major problems.
If you want to have a roaring, smoking fire outside three nights a week then this is likely to give rise to nuisance to neighbours.
Be a considerate neighbour and think about the likely impact on people around you.
See our leaflet Bonfires: domestic burning lealfet (PDF 1.08MB) for further information on domestic bonfires and smoke nuisance.