Bonfires and Fireworks

Garden bonfires can cause real annoyance and nuisance to neighbours and we strongly discourage them.

The Environmental Protection team receives many complaints every year from members of the public who are upset by smoke from bonfires thoughtlessly lit by their neighbours. Unpleasant smells and ash deposits can ruin your neighbours’ washing and spoil their enjoyment of their houses and gardens. Smoke can also be very distressing, especially if the victim suffers from asthma or similar conditions.

Before you light a bonfire, ask yourself is it really necessary? Most garden waste can be composted and will provide valuable humus for the garden. Waste material should be recycled or disposed of at your nearest civic amenity site (North Farm Household Waste Tip) or placed in your brown bin if you have one.

Burning trade or commercial waste is generally not allowed. Clean wood may be burned on building sites but is discouraged and compliance with the Environmental Code of Development Practice is expected.

If you have a bonfire, here are some guidelines to minimise the risk of it becoming a serious nuisance:

  • choose the site and time for your bonfire carefully, taking notice of those living nearby
  • never light a bonfire unless you are satisfied that weather conditions and wind direction will mean that smoke will be carried away from your neighbours’ windows and gardens – if it’s misty or damp, the bonfire will smoulder and produce excessive smoke; if it’s windy, smoke may blow into neighbouring properties and across roads; if the air is still, smoke will linger at low levels
  • make sure that there is no laundry drying in any neighbouring gardens
  • only put dry material on the bonfire that will burn quickly and with the minimum of smoke
  • compost or bury soft vegetable waste and grass cuttings, etc, which are difficult to dry
  • never burn oily rags, rubber, plastics, foam, paint or such materials as they will produce heavy or pungent smoke
  • never use flammable liquids such as oil or petrol to help start your bonfire
  • remember – bonfires are dangerous; never leave them unattended. Do not even leave them when they are smouldering – douse them with water if necessary. Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants
  • let your neighbours enjoy their time off from work - do not burn at weekends or on bank holidays

If you have a bonfire and cause a nuisance the Council can serve you a notice and then prosecute if you do it again.

Bonfires may constitute a ‘Statutory Nuisance’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and action may be taken against you in the Magistrates’ Court which could result in a fine of up to £5,000.

To complain about a bonfire or get advice about having one contact us.

Fireworks are dangerous and if you are planning to hold your own display there are many important things to consider. You need to make sure you set up your display safely, making sure you follow the fireworks code. Fireworks cause a large increase in pollution due to the mixture of chemicals used in their production. All fireworks use gunpowder a side effect of which is the production of sulphur and carbon dioxide, although fireworks produce much less pollution than bonfires.

The rules

  • ban air bombs and nuisance rockets
  • restrict the sale of fireworks from unlicensed traders (from 1 January 2005)
  • make the possession by under 18s of fireworks illegal
  • prohibit the use of fireworks after 11.00pm (restrictions apply which include New Year and the preceding three days, 15 Oct - 10 Nov Bonfire Celebrations, Chinese New Year and the preceding three days and Diwali and the preceding three days)

Enforcement Agencies including the Police and Trading Standards have the responsibility for enforcing the regulations which can lead to fines.

The Firework Code

  • light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves
  • never give sparklers to a child under 5
  • only buy fireworks marked BS-7114
  • keep fireworks in a closed box
  • follow the instructions on each firework
  • light them at arm's length using a taper
  • stand well back
  • never go back to a lit firework
  • never put fireworks in your pocket
  • never throw fireworks
  • Keep pets indoors

Safety advice for running your own firework display

Before the display

  • check the fireworks you buy are suitable for the size of garden and conform to British Standards (BS 7114)
  • ensure your display area is free from hazards
  • do not tamper with the fireworks
  • read instructions in daylight
  • warn neighbours (especially the elderly and those with animals) about your display
  • decide on one person to be responsible for the fireworks

What you will need on the night

  • metal box, with a lid for storage
  • torch for checking instructions
  • bucket of water
  • protective clothing (hat, gloves & eye protection)
  • first Aid kit
  • bucket of soft earth to stick fireworks in
  • a non flammable board for flat bottomed fireworks
  • suitable supports for Catherine wheels
  • proper launchers for rockets

During the display

  • light fireworks at arm's length with a taper
  • stand well back
  • never go back to a lit firework
  • keep storage box closed between use
  • keep children under control

Sparklers

  • are unsuitable for children under five
  • should only be lit one at a time
  • hold at arm's length
  • always wear gloves
  • make sure before you light a sparkler you have a bucket of water or sand to douse the hot end

After the display

  • Collect up spent fireworks using tongs or gloves
  • next morning check again for firework debris

If you are bothered by a bonfire or fireworks display, you can 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 you find it difficult to approach your neighbour you may be able to get advice from West Kent Mediation Service, who can help resolve neighbour disputes.

If this fails please contact us.

To report a smoke nuisance please use our online form. To report a firework problem, please contact us directly.

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