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Smoke nuisance

Bonfires and smoke pollution

Wiltshire Council receive more than 150 complaints a year about smoke from garden bonfires, domestic flues and chimneys and about smoke emanating from commercial premises.

Bonfires can cause a nusiance to other people:

•by making asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory conditions worse
•by affecting visibility for drivers on nearby roads
•because fire can spread to nearby fences or buildings

There are no byelaws restricting bonfires in Wiltshire’s Area and there are no specific times of day restricting bonfires.

However if smoke is caused by a bonfire is creating a nuisance, the council has powers to take action under the provisions of the  Environmental Protection Act 1990.

If a bonfire is causing smoke to drift across a road, please contact the police.

Private individuals can also take action through a Magistrates' Court.

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Garden bonfires produce smoke and smells, which can annoy neighbours as well as damage the environment. Garden trimmings that are still green and wet can give off lots of smoke, and materials like plastics and rubber create poisonous chemicals when they are burnt.

Most garden waste can be easily composted and larger amounts can either be placed in your Green Bin and taken away providing you have arranged a Garden Waste Collection or taken to one of the household waste recycling centres in the county.

If you must have a bonfire, then it is advisable to follow these simple guidelines.

  • Warn your neighbours – this gives them an opportunity to close windows and doors, remove washing off the line and they are much less likely to complain
  • Ideally burn later in the evening when people are less likely to use their gardens
  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
  • Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp or warm, still days. If it is too windy, smoke blows into neighbours' gardens and windows and across roads
  • Avoid burning when air pollution levels in your area are high or very high. You can check air quality on 0800 556677.
  • Keep your fire away from trees, fences and buildings
  • Warning Never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire - you could damage yourself as well as the environment
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - put it out
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If you are affected by smoke from a bonfire, we would recommend that you discuss it initially with your neighbour, as they may not realise that they are causing a problem. Always try to be reasonable, otherwise your discussions may end up in further arguments and create unwanted future neighbour tension.  Explain the details of your concern and try and agree a reasonable solution or compromise.

If this doesn't work or you feel unable to approach the person having the fires, download and complete the smoke monitoring log sheets found on this page.  We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints and we must have the address of where the smoke is coming from. Please ensure you detail how the smoke is impacting on you within your property. If you have any photos please send them with the log sheets. We are unable to access any third party storage sites for example Dropbox.

Once we have received your log sheets the case officer will assess them and contact you to discuss what will happen next. We may write to the alleged offender bringing their attention to the matter. We may also make visits in an attempt to witness the smoke. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.  If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.

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Once we have received your log sheets a member the case officer will assess them and contact you to discuss what will happen next. If there is insufficent evidence to indicate a nuisance is being caused we may ask you to continue to monitor the smoke or we may close the case.

We may write to the alleged offender bringing their attention to the matter and providing them with guidance on how to have a bonfire whilst reducing the risk of it being a nuisance to neighbours.

We may also make visits in an attempt to witness the smoke. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.  If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.

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Having considered all the evidence, the investigation will result in one of the following courses of action:

a) No further action if no nuisance is substantiated
b) Informal advice
c) Service of formal statutory notice to abate the nuisance

If an abatement notice is served and not complied with legal action may be taken through the Courts.
Enforcement will be carried out in accordance with Public Protections Enforcement Policy

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Log Burners and Open Fireplaces

A home or business with a log burner or open fire can be a source of much enjoyment and a way of providing heating in rural areas. However the smoke from a chimney or flues can also be a nuisance for other properties if not installed and managed properly. 

  • Ensure that the flue pipe is extended to a minimum ridge height and is unobstructed to ensure maximum dispersal of smoke. Ideally the flue height should replicate chimney height
  • Ensure the height of flue does not finish close to a nieghbouring properties window
  • Ensure that the wood stove is not over sized for the size and design of you home, wood burners that are larger than 5Kw can take longer to reach optimum temperature and therefore result in a longer period of smoke being generated.
  • Reduce the use of the wood burner when weather conditions do not favour good dispersion of smoke.
  • Use an alternative smokeless fuel, as a means of preventing nuisance whilst still allowing you to use the wood burner. Readily available from any good coal merchant or wholesaler.
  • Only use well-seasoned, dry timber on your wood burner. Wet or ‘green’ wood will cause unnecessary smoke as it does not burn cleanly.
  • Fuel (wood) must not contain halogenated organic compounds or heavy metals as a result of treatment with wood-preservatives or coatings.
  • Do not burn household rubbish or plastics that cause acrid fumes when burnt.
    Do not use ‘treated’ timber such as old fence posts or chipboard, which contains glues and chemicals that cause fume problems when burnt.
  • Where possible ensure that the flue pipe is located internally to the building as external pipes can cool rapidly and produce greater amounts of smoke.
  • Wood burners should not be located in single story annexes or conservatory’s where neighbouring houses can be affected by smoke nuisance.
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Log burners have become more popular over recent years with properties adding flues to install them in areas where open fires did not previously exist. Often little thought has been given to the location of the flue and this can lead to problems for neighbours where properties are close by. HETAS have various leaflets which should be consulted before deciding to install a log burner.

A professional installer will ensure that any new log burner complies fully with Building Regulations, which ensures the installation is safe and meets the relevant requirements. Alternatively a Certificate of Compliance can be issued when the appliance is installed by a HETAS Engineer which also confirms compliance with Building Regulations. A copy of the certificate is also submitted to the local authority.

It is important to note that HETAS and Building control look at the safety of the log burner within the property that its been installed they will not consider whether the smoke is likely to cause a nuisance to nearby residents, this is the householders responsibility.

If a log burner is deemed to be causing a nuisance to another property action can be taken under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to require steps to be taken to remediate it.

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Log burners and fires may be more smokey when first lit and this is unlikely to cause a nuisance based on just this. If the smoke is continous and can be smelt through out your property then we may be able to take action.

If you are experiencing smoke affecting your property coming from a neighbours log buner we would always recommend talking to your neighbour first to let them know its causing you a problem.

If this doesn't work or you don't feel able to approach them please download and complete the smoke monitoring log sheets found on this page.  We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints and we must have the address of where the smoke is coming from. Please ensure you detail how the smoke is impacting on you within your property. If you have any photos please send them with the log sheets. We are unable to access any third party storage sites for example Dropbox.

Once we have received your log sheets the case officer will assess them and contact you to discuss what will happen next. We may write to the alleged offender bringing their attention to the matter and provide them with a leafllet on the use of log burners and open fires whilst reducing the risk of it being a nuisance to neighbours. We may also make visits in an attempt to witness the smoke. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.  If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.

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Nuisance - How to take your own legal action

If the local authority is unable to substantiate a statutory nuisance you are able to take your own action against the person/organisation responsible

Information about out to do this can be found on the How to take your own legal action page.

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Last updated: 25 September 2018 | Last reviewed: 25 September 2018