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Taking Action Over Bonfires

Taking Action Over Bonfires


Currently there are no specific byelaws to prevent bonfires. If used sensitively, the occasional bonfire or barbecue should not cause a major problem and an outright ban would be unreasonable. It would be difficult to enforce and occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of garden waste.

However, if a neighbour is causing a nuisance by burning rubbish the law is on your side. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a Statutory Nuisance includes smoke emitted from premises.

In practice, to be considered a nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a regular problem and interfering substantially with your well being, comfort, or enjoyment of your property. If you are bothered by persistent bonfire smoke it is best to approach your neighbour first and explain the problem. If this fails to resolve the situation you will need to contact the council to investigate your complaint.

Remember, if the fire is only occasional this is unlikely to be considered a nuisance. Similarly, if you are being troubled by a series of bonfires from different neighbours, each one of whom only burns occasionally, this may not be considered a nuisance. In this situation, all you can do is encourage them to consider alternatives. 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.

The term Statutory Nuisance is legally defined. It must be something that is either prejudicial to health or a nuisanceĀ. This is something more than mildly annoying and would need to either be injurious to health or likely to cause injury to health, or interfere with the normal use of your property. Each case would need to be decided on its merits and the assessment would take into account the circumstances which would be tolerated by an ordinary reasonable person.

What can you do?

Discuss the problem with the person responsible for the bonfire and make them aware of your concerns.

Speak to other neighbours who may be affected and get them to support your complaint if possible.

Keep detailed and accurate records of the bonfires on the diary sheets sent to you by the council.

Be prepared to make a formal statement and to attend court to support the council if required. Be patient. The Council will try to resolve the complaint as quickly as possible, however in some cases there can be a delay particularly if the bonfire is occurring intermittently.

What can we do?

What the council will do to investigate your complaint: An officer will contact you either by letter, telephone or will visit you to discuss the matter and offer advice and guidance.

An officer may visit the person responsible for the bonfire to advise them of the complaint. They may offer advice on remedial action to deal with the problem and to prevent further nuisance.

If a visit to the person responsible is not made we may send them a letter outlining the problem. In many cases this is sufficient to solve the matter.

If the bonfires continues we will:

What will the council do if the bonfires amounts to a statutory nuisance:

Is it worth the trouble?

In the long term - YES. If you are able to demonstrate that despite having adopted a reasonable approach from the outset, you have a genuine cause for concern, then a solution can be reached. Please contact the Council early in the complaint. The quicker the council are involved the quicker they may be able to resolve the problem.

Most people take measures to prevent a nuisance with their bonfires when they are made aware of the problem. It is only in extreme cases that the council need to take the formal action outlined above.

Alternatively, you can make a direct approach to the Magistrates Court if you feel that you are the victim of a statutory nuisance. You can take this course of action if the council do not obtain sufficient evidence to proceed. If the Court are satisfied that a nuisance exists or is likely to be repeated the court can make an order direct, compelling the person responsible to reduce or stop the nuisance or carry out works to avoid it in the future. Simply call in at the Magistrates Office during normal office hours and discuss the problem with an officer of the court. They will explain the procedure and course of action open to you and evidence needed to support your case.

For further information

Environmental Services Department,
Swale Borough Council,
Swale House,
East Street,
ME12 3HT

Telephone: 01795 417850


Kent Police Telephone: 01622 690690

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Telephone: 0845 9335577

Website: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Council is committed to the promotion of equal opportunities in all its affairs. Every effort will be made to ensure that members of the public are treated equally and fairly, regardless of race, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, colour religion, disability or age.

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