Smoke is a frequent cause of nuisance complaints, and the two most common sources of complaint are wood/solid fuel stoves and garden bonfires.
Wood/solid fuel stoves and open fires
We receive a growing number of complaints concerning smoke from wood/solid fuel burning stoves both inside and outside smoke control areas. Compared to the use of natural gas or electricity, burning solid fuel to heat our homes has a much greater impact on air quality and therefore a greater impact on our health. The graphs below show the difference in particulate emissions from using different fuels and also a comparison with particulate emissions from diesel vehicles. It can be seen that wood burning stoves are generally more polluting.
The impact of burning wood/solid fuel is most noticeable in urban/suburban areas, where the combined impact of a number of stoves/open fires is becoming more noticeable and significant. During winter months it is now not unusual to be able to smell smoke in many areas of the Lancaster district.
It estimated that around 25% of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) arises from the use of wood burning stoves/solid fuel appliances in around 8% of households. This means that currently 8% of houses are currently emitting three times the amount of particulate pollution than that arising from road traffic (see diagram comparing stove emissions to emissions from vehicles).
Choosing a new solid fuel/wood burner installation as a replacement to gas heating, means that around 450 times more particulate pollution is emitted from your home. Existing older solid fuel/wood appliances are likely to emit far more. Pollution emitted inside homes where solid fuel is used is also a significant concern, particularly for people who have existing health conditions e.g. people with asthma, people with lung or heart conditions (see infographic at top of this page that shows a comparison of pollution emitted inside you home from using different fuels to heat your home).
- See also Defra's clean air strategy and domestic solid fuel regulations).
Under the Environment Act 1995 (as recently amended by the Environment Act 2021), Lancaster City Council is responsible for reviewing and assessing local air quality and planning action to improve air quality. On the grounds of minimising air pollution to protect health, we would therefore not encourage the use of solid fuel/wood burning appliances in urban/suburban locations (inside or outside smoke control areas).
If you do install a solid fuel appliance, please ensure you use a competent installer and if you are located within a smoke control area (see below), meet the specific appliance, fuel and operating requirements. Please also pay particular attention to the location and height of the chimney to ensure you do not unreasonably affect your neighbours and also avoid using a chimney cowl which impedes the upward dispersal of smoke.
Further advice on the recently introduced requirements around domestic solid fuels (The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020) can be found at the Lancashire County Council Trading Standards website and on the summary document below. Trading standards are the enforcing body for these requirements and any queries on the requirements should therefore be directed to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 us)
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 lower quantities of sulphur and particulates when burned. Further information about smokeless fuels and appliances is available on the DEFRA and HETAS websites.
Please do not hesitate to contact us should you need advice regarding smoke control area requirements.
The Clean Air Act 1993 (section 21) provides powers to exempt fireplaces, stoves and boilers 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 therefore 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 usually 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 2016 (as amended).
- We have produced a burning of waste fact sheet summarising the law.
Last updated: 17 January 2023