Over the last few weeks several residents have contacted us about their neighbours’ bonfires. It’s a tricky subject – a bit like people playing music too loud or letting a boundary hedge grow too tall – everyone has a different opinion on what is acceptable or reasonable. It’s an emotive subject, but probably better to address it rather than ignore it.
There are two ways to look at bonfires – the legal clarity is important but it is essential to find practical ways to get along with neighbours and resolve any differences before they develop into a dispute.
The government website gives some guidance. The law on having bonfires is perhaps not as clear as we would like it to be but it nevertheless offers good guidance and seems to follow common sense:
There are no laws against having a bonfire, but there are laws for the nuisance they can cause.
Burning domestic waste
You cannot get rid of household waste if it will cause pollution or harm people’s health. This includes burning it.
You can, of course, get rid of household or garden waste by composting or recycling it. Contact your local council to find out how to dispose of garden waste and about recycling in your area.
Please bear in mind, that you could be fined if you light a fire and allow the smoke to drift across the road and become a danger to traffic.
Complain about a neighbour’s bonfire
Your council can issue an ‘abatement notice’ if a neighbour’s bonfire is causing a nuisance. A bonfire must happen frequently, i.e. monthly to be considered a nuisance.
Your neighbour can be fined up to £5,000 if they don’t follow the rules of the notice.
In our experience most people want to get on with their neighbours and many people would be mortified if they knew their actions were causing a problem for others. Helping to build good neighbourly relationships between residents is an important part of being a local councillor. A lot of problems arise because residents don’t fully appreciate that something is causing their near neighbours a problem, whilst the neighbours don’t want to kick up a fuss but instead quietly fume about the issue, without saying anything, until they finally snap! Let’s try to avoid this kind of escalation.
How do bonfires affect your neighbours? Recent Covid-19 pandemic reminded us all that some people have underlying respiratory health conditions, others feel forced to sit inside, with the windows shut, on a hot day, others get annoyed that their washing or curtains have been covered in soot or smell of smoke.
Alternatives to bonfires. Consider composting more garden waste – a brown garden waste bin is excellent for thicker woody material. If you don’t have enough waste to fill a brown bin, why not share one with your neighbour? Here’s link for more information on how to get a brown bin.
It’s a bit of a trek to the recycling centre but this is much better than burning garden waste.
If you do have a bonfire. Choose a day when fewer people will want to sit outside. Check if neighbours have their washing out. Speak to your nearest neighbours and try have bonfires as rarely as possible.
What to do if you feel a neighbour is unreasonably having too many bonfires? Most of us don’t like to complain we want to be good neighbours. There is some advice on the city council website encouraging you to talk to your neighbours or if you feel uncomfortable doing this you could use the council’s pre-prepared template letter.
Cllr Louis Stephen Tom Piotrowski
Battenhall Ward (Green Party) St Peter’s Community Champion