Smoke is a frequent cause for nuisance complaints. There are no byelaws governing domestic bonfires but sensible precautions should be followed to prevent nuisance and the council will formally intervene if a statutory nuisance is caused.
In Lancaster there are eight formal Smoke Control Areas where burning of solid fuels is strictly controlled.
Smoke control areas
- View smoke control area map (This information is for guidance only and within any declared area exceptions may exist. For confirmation if a property is within a smoke control area please contact: Environmental Health Service, Morecambe Town Hall, Morecambe, LA4 5AF. Tel: 01524 582935)
Between 1959 and 1974 the council declared eight smoke control areas covering most of Lancaster. It is an offence to burn any fuel in a fireplace – domestic or otherwise – unless it is a special smokeless fuel (an authorised fuel) or the fireplace is specifically exempted by law (see exempted appliances below). This applies to any stove or appliance that is vented by a chimney so it includes garden, greenhouse and allotment stoves and heaters. New properties built within smoke control areas are also covered by this legal requirement.
The burning of ordinary bituminous coal, or wood on an appliance which is not exempted, which are not authorised fuels, will create smoke and an offence will be committed which may lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £1000.
Authorised smokeless fuels for open fires or unauthorised appliances in smoke control areas include Anthracite, Sunbrite, Coalite and Homefire which can be ignited by bottled gas or firelighters. These fuels emit very low quantities of sulphur and 'particles' when burned. Further information about smokeless fuels and appliances is available on the DEFRA and HETAS websites.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Environmental Health Department should you need advice regarding Smoke Control Area requirements.
The Clean Air Act 1993 (section 21) provides powers to exempt fireplaces, stoves, boilers, etc., from the provisions prohibiting emissions of smoke in smoke control areas. Some exempted appliances are designed for home heating. Others such as small incinerators and boilers are used in industrial or commercial premises for burning specified materials, including some types of waste material.
The process of exemption involves manufacturers applying to Defra, the appliances being tested to confirm that they are capable of burning an unauthorised or inherently smoky solid fuel without emitting smoke, and on passing being exempted by Order for general use in smoke control areas in England. A list of current exemptions with details of each appliance, fuel requirements and conditions which apply are available from the government department Defra.
Bonfires can be very irritating to neighbours. The smoke and smell often causes complaints when neighbours are prevented from opening windows, hanging out washing or enjoying their gardens. Bonfire smoke can cause unnecessary air pollution and temporarily worsen people's underlying health conditions.
It is rarely necessary to have a bonfire when you can compost or recycle garden waste. In fact it can be quite difficult in urban areas to have a bonfire without causing a disturbance.
Although generally the council advises against domestic bonfires, there are no relevant byelaws in the Lancaster district and it is legal to do so provided that there is no nuisance, the waste is not household rubbish and there is no breach of planning permission.
Sensible precautions should be followed:
- Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, engine oil, petrol, fresh ‘green’ garden wastes, damp material or anything that contains plastic foam or paint
- Avoid burning at weekends, bank holidays and when smoke may be blown into neighbours' gardens
- Only burn dry material
- Don't leave a bonfire unattended or smouldering
- Be prepared to put the bonfire out (for example with a readily available pile of soil, preferably not with water) if it does cause a problem or complaint
If you are concerned about smoke drifting across a road and endangering traffic, contact Lancashire Police on 01524 63333.
Burning on industrial and trade premises, construction and demolition sites
Burning on trade or industrial premises is often problematic and it is normally an offence (‘Duty of Care’, Environmental Protection Act 1990 Section 34). Wastes produced during business activities must be stored, handled and disposed of in an appropriate and legal manner. Wastes may only be burned on-site in specialist incinerators and even then conditions apply. Industrial waste management activities are regulated by the Environment Agency.
Dark smoke emissions from chimneys and from fires on industrial or trade premises are prohibited via Sections 1 and 2 of the Clean Air Act 1993 subject to a few exemptions. Even then conditions apply. The emission of dark smoke is a strict offence and offenders when prosecuted face fines of up to £5,000 per offence.
Industrial air pollution emissions from certain industries are subject to strict environmental permitting by the council under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (as amended).
We have produced a burning of waste fact sheet summarising the law.