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Anger over summer evening bonfires

Concern is being expressed in this site's ‘Have Your Say’ section about the number of bonfires being lit in Brookmans Park on warm summer evenings.

Garden Bonfires

Are they a necessity or a nuisance?

Everyone has a right to burn their rubbish whenever they want.
People should be more considerate towards their neighbours.
The law needs to be changed to ban garden bonfires.

Current Results

Some correspondents are angry that they are forced to close all their windows to prevent the smell of the smoke getting into their homes.

Others are worried about the health aspects. Two have mentioned the affect the smoke has on their asthmatic children.

If you want to join the debate please click on the link to the form in the ‘Have Your Say’ section and fill in your details.  Please add your name, address and e-mail details. What you write will be published immediately on the site.

Alternatively you can take part in the poll on the left and cast your vote. 

Please only vote once.

The following are a few of the comments already posted by four local residents.

“I am getting increasingly frustrated with the many bonfires that people seem to light on the occasional pleasant evenings we actually get. We had the exact same issue last night with someone lighting some wet material at around 7pm. The question is do these people have internet access in order to know that others are annoyed and second do they care anyway?”

“A quarter to nine on a clear Sunday evening … thick white smoke fills the air and we have to leave the garden on one of the few evenings when it would have been nice to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors. And we are probably not the only family with an asthmatic child who would like to leave a window open for fresh air when he sleeps but are denied yet again.”

“I have no problem with occasional bonfires timed to coincide with gloomy evenings. However what we have here is a situation where people collect damp cuttings and leaves and then proceed to burn them in the middle of a sunny afternoon.”

"Is there anything that can be done to stop or reduce the number of bonfires in the village? I appreciate that it is everyone's right to have bonfires, but there is nothing worse on a lovely late spring evening, when the windows are open, than the stink of the smoke.”

Hertfordshire County Council's website says that bonfires and their related problems i.e. smoke pollution, are the responsibility of District and Borough Councils and urges people to contact them directly.

The Welwyn Hatfield District Council website does not contain any information about burning garden waste but they have a leaflet which they are happy to post to anyone who telephones the office. The number is 01707 357000. A spokesperson for WHDC said there are no by-laws about burning garden rubbish.

Legal and health issues

So what is the legal position regarding bonfires and are there any health implications?

The National Association for Clean Air and Environmental Protection, NSCA, has several pages dealing with the issue of burning garden waste.

The following are some of the quotes taken from the NSCA site dealing with this issue...

The Environment: “Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering. This will contain pollutants including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. Your bonfire will also add to the general background level of air pollution. Air pollution in the UK often reaches unhealthy levels - do you really want to make it worse?”

Health: “Emissions from bonfires can have damaging health effects. Serious harm is unlikely if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief. However problems may be caused for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions and children.”

Annoyance: “The smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to local authorities. Smoke prevents your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. Allotments near homes can cause particular problems, if plot holders persistently burn waste.”

Safety: “Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Exploding bottles and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned. Piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by animals, so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.

Bonfires and the Law: “It is a common misconception that there are specific bye-laws to prohibit bonfires - there aren't. An outright ban would be difficult to enforce and very occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of garden waste.

“If used sensitively, the occasional bonfire should not cause a major problem. However, where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning rubbish the law is on your side. Under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, a statutory nuisance includes smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.

"In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem, interfering substantially with your well-being, comfort or enjoyment of your property.

"If bothered by smoke, approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing and it will hopefully make them more considerate in the future.

"If this fails, contact your local council's environmental health department.

“They must investigate your complaint and can issue a nuisance abatement notice under the EPA.

"The Act also allows you to take private action in the magistrates' court.

"The NSCA factsheet "Pollution, Nuisance and the Law" explains the legal position in more detail. There is also a factsheet on “Asthma and Air Quality”.

“If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law.

"Similarly, if you are being troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would be difficult as there are several offenders. In this situation encourage them to consider the alternatives - give them a copy of this leaflet!

“Finally, under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. Contact the police in this case.”

Bonfire Guidelines: "If a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines and the chances are you won't annoy your neighbours or cause a serious nuisance.

  • 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 the fire or to encourage it.
  • Avoid lighting 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.
  • Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens.
  • Avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. This information is included in weather forecasts, or you can check by ringing 0800 556677.
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary.
If you want to join the debate please click on the link to the form in the ‘Have Your Say’ section and fill in your name, address and e-mail details. What you write will be published immediately on the site.

Alternatively you can take part in the poll at the top of this page and cast your vote. 

July 24, 2001

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