Garden bonfires: what you can and cannot do

By on 04/06/2015 in Blog

Jacqui Kennedy, Director of Regulation and Enforcement, looks at the burning issue of bonfires and the risks posed by having one in your garden.

With summer approaching, we are all hoping for good weather and a chance to enjoy our gardens and outside areas. What we don’t want is our enjoyment spoiled by smoke, fumes and odours from bonfires in neighbours’ gardens or from the local builder burning waste.

There is some confusion about what is permissible in terms of burning within Birmingham, so I intend to shed some light on what can and what can’t be burned.

It is important to stress that Birmingham is a Smoke Control Area. This means it is an offence to emit smoke from any chimney unless the appliance (fireplace, boiler) serving the chimney is authorised by Government and that the correct fuel is being burned.

This does not however cover bonfires in gardens. Having a garden bonfire is not illegal. However, if a person has a bonfire and the smoke blows into their neighbour’s property then this may constitute a statutory nuisance.

Birmingham City Council may serve notice on people who cause a nuisance and take the offending person to court, where fines up to the amount of £5,000 may be levied.  Individuals may also take their own private action through the civil courts, so having a bonfire at the weekend is no safeguard against being fined.

It is better either not to have bonfires, or to discuss them with your neighbours in advance.

The official line from the council is that we would prefer residents not to have bonfires in their gardens as the risk from nuisance is high and also the fire may get out of control, becoming a hazard in its own right.

If people do choose to have bonfires then it is important to ensure that what is burnt is clean garden waste only, and preferably dry so as to avoid excess smoke. Under no circumstances should laminated wood (which contains glues) or anything plastic be burned, as the emissions are likely to be toxic.

With regards to businesses there is less leeway to burn. Every business has a duty of care to dispose of its waste in a safe and legitimate manner, through licensed waste carriers or by disposal at licensed sites.

Birmingham City Council does not endorse any burning of trade waste and require every business to have a contract, which can be produced upon request to demonstrate the correct disposal of their waste.

Hopefully this has cleared the air on the subject of bonfires. I hope we all enjoy a wonderful, bright, sunny and smoke free summer.

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