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Bonfires, their smoke, and burning rubbish

Garden bonfires and burning other rubbish can sometimes cause problems.

Garden bonfires: the rules and guidance if you have bonfires and use fireworks (GOV.UK).

Green bin collections, composting and garden waste.

Recycling Centres.

After Dark, one of Yorkshire's biggest fireworks displays.


About bonfires

There are no by-laws to prohibit bonfires.

Where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning rubbish, the law can be used.

It is difficult for our officers to respond to calls to witness smoke problems as they happen at any time.

To investigate we need your help and this guide explains how we can work together.

Though we are happy to investigate your complaint, it is better if disputes can be resolved informally between neighbours without legal proceedings.


Our tenants

Council housing or Housing Association tenants, where the person causing you a problem is also a tenant, your landlord may be able to help you.


Definition of a nuisance

A nuisance is described as something happening on one premises which is significantly interfering with the enjoyment of another premises.

Everyone living in society we must put up with some inconvenience.

Most nuisance are dealt with under civil law however the Environmental Protection 1990 defines a number of statutory nuisances these include:

  • Smoke, fumes or gasses emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance
  • This definition can cover garden bonfires, burning domestic rubbish, burning commercial waste
  • Smoke being emitted from chimneys is dealt with under separate legislation
  • In practice to be considered to be a statutory nuisance a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem interfering substantially with your wellbeing, comfort or enjoyment of your property.
  • Although statutory investigation can be undertaken an informal approach to your neighbour would normally be the first step


Your options


Informal action

Try talking to the people responsible for the smoke.

Politely explain how it affects you and ask your neighbour to reduce the disturbance:

  • Have a word with your neighbour before you get angry or upset

  • Choose a convenient time. Say "I'd like to have a word about a problem I've got, as I think you may be able to help. When would it be convenient for you?"  He or she will be more inclined to discuss it as your guest

  • Think beforehand about what you want to say. Be clear and precise about your view of the problem

  • Don't blame or accuse your neighbour of antisocial behaviour or bad attitudes

  • Never be quick to jump to assumptions about what has happened

  • Never shout, use abuse, bad language or threaten retaliation

  • Give your neighbour plenty of time to express his or her own views. Be patient, listen carefully, and try to understand what he or she is actually saying - don't assume you already know what he or she thinks

  • Be prepared to accept differences in attitudes, ways of life, etc. 'Live & let live', but be firm about those activities that cause inconvenience or harm. Let your neighbour say what he or she thinks, but don't be afraid to make your own views clear as well

  • Take the view that together you can sort the problem out and still remain on good terms. Be open to suggestions as to how the problem may be resolved

  • Don't assume that the first idea that comes into your head will be the best one - it may suit you but if it is inconvenient to your neighbour it probably won't work

  • Bring all the relevant issues into the open from the start. Don't keep the awkward bits hidden, or your neighbour may think that it is less of a problem that it really is

  • Be careful not to bring in matters that are not relevant to the immediate problem - like how your neighbour held a noisy house-warming party ten years ago but you didn't like to say anything at the time

  • Be reasonable. If your neighbour offers to make concessions or put him or herself out see if you can do the same, but don't rush to an unsatisfactory agreement just because you feel embarrassed about having a conflict. Both of you must feel entirely happy with the result if it is to work

If this approach doesn't work, make a note that you have approached the person, the date and their response.

Put your complaint in writing to your neighbour in polite terms, requesting a reduction in disturbance.

Allow at least 2 weeks for your neighbour to consider your request and take action. Copies of any letters should be kept for future reference.



If your informal approach fails, or you feel that you cannot approach your neighbours directly, a mediation service may help.

The Sheffield Community Mediation Service (MESH) is designed to help neighbours to resolve conflicts.

It is free, impartial, independent and confidential, and it has a good track record of success.

The MESH mediators act as go-betweens for the disputing parties and aim to reach a satisfactory outcome, or at least to open a channel of communication that will allow differences to be discussed without conflict.


Formal action

The law allows formal action to be taken by us or you, to deal with a "statutory nuisance".

You should ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to appear in court.

The instigation of formal action will have an affect on relationships with your neighbour.

The courts will only consider something a nuisance if it would be nuisance to a 'reasonable man or woman'. It is a principle of English Law that it does not exist to protect the abnormally sensitive.

Complaints about the occasional bonfire are unlikely to impress, such things are all part of living in a community.


Legal action by us

We can only get involved on a formal basis, and the process may take some time to complete.

Taking legal action can be a complicated and expensive process. If we decide to take a case on your behalf, then there will be no costs to yourself, and you will be guided through the process by one of our officers.

All action by ourselves is undertaken in the Criminal Courts.

The first thing that will happen is that we will discuss the complaint with you.

We will ask you to provide us with:

  • a record of the nuisance of your complaint
  • details of the circumstances leading to the nuisance

These forms should be filled in for a period covering a reasonable number of incidents.

Ideally at least one other person from another household should also complete a nuisance log and questionnaire to corroborate your evidence.

Telephone us (select option 1).

Considering your evidence

When the logs and questionnaire are returned, we will decide what further action, if any.

We will make arrangements to investigate, including:

  • Visit to your property

  • Take formal statements from witnesses

  • Interview the person responsible for the alleged nuisance

  • If Statutory Nuisance is occurring, serve legal notice on the person responsible

  • Monitor if the notice is complied with. This will involve further record keeping by the complainants and the taking of further witness statements

  • If appropriate, prosecution

Updating you on progress

We will tell you the name of our officer dealing with your case, and you will be kept informed of progress throughout the process.

If we feel that we are unable to support your complaint, or if you do not want to use our services, you can take your own legal action.


Legal action by you

If you are seriously considering taking legal action yourself, we recommend that you consult a solicitor and get an estimate of the likely costs first.

You may decide to take action in either the Civil or Criminal Courts.

You should seek separate legal advice if considering a civil nuisance action.

If you are prepared to take your complaint to the Magistrates Court, you will need to collect evidence in support. You can do this by making notes using the questionnaire and keeping a record on the log sheets.

Your case will be much stronger if you can get other witnesses who are prepared to keep similar records and appear in Court.


Court hearings

If you are employing a solicitor he or she will arrange to get your case heard at court. However, you may make a complaint without using a solicitor by carrying out the following procedure:

First, you must give the person about whom you are complaining 3 days notice of your intention to make a complaint.

Download Form A - Intention to Make a Complaint to do this, but keep a copy.

After the 3 days have passed, then complete 2 copies of the Form B - Complaint Form, take one copy to the Magistrates Court and keep the other copy for your own use.

You can attend the court for this purpose any Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 9.15am and 9.40am.

You must report to the General Office on the third floor at 9am first.

When it's your turn to see the Magistrates, they will look at your completed form, and will ask you some questions about the nature of your complaint.

The sorts of questions which may be asked are:

  1. Your name and address
  2. Your telephone number
  3. The address where the nuisance is coming from
  4. The name of person(s) causing the nuisance
  5. When you first experienced the problem
  6. How often the nuisance occurs?
  7. Have you complained to the person causing the problem and if so what was his/her response?
  8. What evidence of nuisance you have?
  9. What other witnesses there are?

If the Magistrates are satisfied that your complaint is a reasonable one, your form will be signed and the court will arrange a hearing, for a future date, at which the defendant (i.e. the person you are complaining about) will be summoned to appear.


At the hearing

The court (comprising up to 3 Magistrates and their legal advisor) will listen to details of your complaint, and also to what the defendant has to say in reply.

They will hear evidence from you and your witnesses (if any) and the defence. Opportunity will be given to question any witnesses.

The Magistrates will then decide whether or not a noise nuisance exists or is likely to recur.

If they decide that a nuisance does exist (or has existed and - but may recur in the future), then they will make a Nuisance Order which requires the defendant to stop causing the nuisance within a stated time and/or prevent the recurrence of the nuisance.

They may also fine the defendants at this time. If the Magistrates decide that your case has not been proved they will dismiss the proceedings and may award costs against you.


If the nuisance continues

If, after an Order has been made, the nuisance continues, you should make careful notes of the dates, times etc. of the nuisance, as you did before, and report it to the Magistrates Court.

The court may then recall the defendant to another hearing and if your case is proved, impose a fine or another appropriate penalty.


Solicitors and costs

You do not have to employ a solicitor to take action under the Environmental Protection Act. There are however a number of rules to be followed.

Solicitors are trained in applying these rules and if you are not represented you may have difficulties in getting all your evidence heard.

If you use a solicitor you will have to pay their fees. However if you successfully prove your case, you can ask the court to order the defendant to pay your costs in bringing these proceedings.

It may be better for you to take a civil case to apply for an injunction or for damages, and a solicitor will be able to advise you on the best course of action and your chances of success.

If you bring a case before the Magistrates and fail to prove it you may be required to pay the costs incurred by the court, the defence solicitors and the costs of any witnesses summoned to appear as well as your own costs.

If we take a case on your behalf they carry these risks for you and will bear any costs.


Related information

Firework Displays & Bonfire safety information and registration.

  • Modified: Apr 26, 2016 9:20:46 AM