It is a common misconception that there are specific laws prohibiting garden bonfires or specifying times when they can be lit - there aren’t! Occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of wood or waste that cannot be composted and occasional burning of such waste does not cause a problem.
However, the fire must not cause a statutory nuisance to a neighbouring property. This means that if it occurs frequently and interferes with the normal use and enjoyment of a neighbours’ property it could cause a statutory nuisance.
If a statutory nuisance occurs formal action can be taken under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Report a bonfire problem
How do I complain about a bonfire?
It is recommended that you approach the owner of the fire and explain that it is causing you a problem if you feel confident enough to do so. It may be awkward but they may not be aware of how you are being affected and it may make them more considerate in the future.
If this fails then you can request the service of an Environmental Health Officer from the Council to investigate the matter for you. The nature, frequency and effect of the fire will be considered. You may have to keep a diary of these occurrences to demonstrate that a nuisance exists. You can do this using the Air Pollution Complaint Enquiry form (20k PDF)
Private Sector Housing, Development and Enterprise, Civic Centre, Gateshead. NE8 1HH. Tel: 0191 433 3000. E-mail: email@example.com
If the Council are unable to take any action then you can take private action in Gateshead Magistrates Court. Alternatively you can take civil action.
What's wrong with bonfires?
Burning garden waste produces smoke – especially if that waste is green or damp. This will emit harmful pollutants including particles. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials creates noxious fumes that give off a range of harmful and poisonous compounds and should never be done.
Air pollution can have damaging health effects, and people with existing health problems are especially vulnerable, such as asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions, children and the elderly.
Smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires are the subject of about 30,000 complaints to local authorities every year. Smoke prevents 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 problems if plot holders persistently burn green waste, and leave fires smouldering.
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.
Where ever possible you should aim to compost your gardens waste or use the garden waste recycling bin provided by the Council.
Rather than burning garden waste or putting food waste in the dustbin where it will end up buried or incinerated, a compost bin will produce useful soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products. Advice on composting is available from gardening organisations.
Woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting or mulching. You can buy or hire shredders, and some allotment societies have their own. If using a shredder be considerate – they are very noisy so don't swap one nuisance for another! Delete entirely.
Household waste should certainly not be burnt. Many items can be reused or recycled and the council has recycling facilities.
Burning old furniture can cause particular hazards, as some materials can release toxic fumes when burnt. If furniture is in reasonable condition there are many charitable services that collect and re-use unwanted items; the Council offers a bulky waste collection service for old furniture, contact Local Environmental Services to arrange for collection. You may be charged a collection fee depending on the items for collection. See Recycling with the Council.
Your unwanted goods may also be of value to other people and can be donated to charity shops, or even make you money through sale in classified adverts, car boot sales or services such as eBay.
If you must have bonfire
make sure you:
- Burn only dry material.
- Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint, all of which can produce toxic fumes.
- Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions-smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days. If it is too windy, smoke blows into neighbours’ gardens, windows and across roads.
- Do not leave a fire unattended and make sure it is out before you leave it.
- Have a quick clean fire – avoid adding wet waste or soil as this will cause the fire to smolder longer and cause smoke and smell problems over several days.
If you wish to make a complaint or would like further advice about bonfires, please contact the Private Sector Housing Team today on (0191) 433 3000, or by completing this form.