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Smoke from fires and chimneys (air pollution)

Report smoke pollution, how we deal with your report, advice on burning solid fuel, and effects of burning on air quality.

Can the council investigate issues with smoke from fires and chimneys?

Yes, we can investigate complaints about smoke where it could cause a 'statutory nuisance', as well as reports of burning trade waste and businesses emitting dark smoke.  For smoke to count as a statutory nuisance it must either:

  • unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of someone's home or other premises
  • be harmful to their health or likely to be harmful

Read more about statutory nuisance laws on the government's Legislation website.

Dark smoke

It's an offence for a business or industrial premises to emit dark smoke, for example from a chimney or furnace.  When boilers or furnaces are first lit they may produce some dark smoke to begin with, which is allowed for a short period of time.

Read more about the Clean Air Act 1993 on the government's Legislation website.

Burning trade waste

It's an offence to dispose of waste from a trade or business activity without the proper authorisation, and this includes burning it.  Anyone who produces waste has a 'duty of care' to ensure it is disposed of appropriately.

Read more about waste laws on the government's Legislation website.

Bonfires and chimneys

If you are being affected by smoke from the regular burning of garden waste, or from chimneys and other fires, you may be able to resolve your complaint by first talking to your neighbour to make them aware of the problem.  

An informal approach is usually preferable, as involving the council can sometimes damage relations with your neighbours.   

If you don't feel comfortable speaking to them directly at first, we have provided an example template letter for issues with bonfire smoke, but it can be amended to suit your situation: 

Neighbour bonfire smoke letter (24kb)

Please note: we have legal powers to investigate and deal with serious issues caused by air pollution, such as smoke. If you’ve sent a letter to your neighbour and it hasn't helped to resolve the situation, or you don't feel comfortable speaking to them, you can report the issue and we will investigate. 

Emergencies

In cases where you believe a fire is out of control and endangering public safety you should contact the emergency services by dialling 999.

Please note: this number should only be used in emergencies.

Smoking in public places

Read more about smoking of cigarettes in public places.

How does the council investigate my air pollution complaint?

If you report air pollution you will need to provide your contact details, so we can discuss your complaint with you before we investigate further.   It can be useful if you have kept a record of when the alleged problem occurs and how it affects you, so we can decide what action can be taken.  If you have photographs of the issue, this may also be useful.

Please note: it may take up to 10 working days to respond to your complaint.  

Evidence and diary sheets

When we investigate an alleged nuisance, we will usually write to the person responsible for the alleged problem to inform them that a complaint has been made, and will send you a detailed diary sheet to fill in and return to us.  Our officers will also try to witness the problem themselves and gather any further evidence as necessary. 

One-off incidents can be reported, but any investigation will depend on the severity of the problem and whether it is ongoing.

Confidentiality

If you report a problem with pollution all your personal details will be kept strictly confidential.  However, if a case does end up going to court, you may be asked to give evidence, depending on the nature of the investigation, at which point your details would become known.

Are there any restrictions on having a bonfire?

There are no specific by-laws on having a bonfire in the East Riding, however, this is not a licence for indiscriminate burning.  

For safety advice and guidance on what not to burn read more about bonfires. 

Please note:  It is illegal to dispose of waste that has not come from your property, so trade or business waste must not be burned at home.  

Do I live in a smoke control area?

There are currently no smoke control areas within the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Councils have powers to create smoke control areas, if air quality problems get particularly bad. This would mean that no one in that area would be allowed to produce smoke from a chimney or furnace, and only approved solid fuels or exempt appliances (for example, certain types of wood burning stove) can be used.  The rules do not apply to bonfires or BBQs.

Read more about smoke control areas on the GOV.UK website

Where can I get advice on installing a wood, biomass or solid fuel heating system?

Domestic systems

You should get specialist advice from an experienced installer if you are considering a solid fuel or biomass stove or boiler, to make sure it works efficiently and does not cause smoke or odour problems.  Biomass typically refers to pellets, chips or briquettes of wood or other plant matter which can be used as fuel.  Solid fuel is usually either wood or coal.

The government has produced the following guidance document on open fires and wood-burning stoves:

Defra - open fires and wood-burning stoves guidance (222kb)

You can also find useful information and advice on installing and using a wood or solid fuel domestic heating system on the following websites:

Heating and Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) website

BurnRight domestic heating awareness campaign website

HETAS can provide a register of installers with membership to their competent person scheme, which should ensure that any new wood burning heating system they install will comply with building regulations.  

Commercial systems

Depending on the size of the system and the type of fuel, you may require an environmental permit to operate. 

For businesses which are proposing larger biomass boilers or combined heat and power schemes please refer to our information on air quality and planning .

Further information on building regulations for biomass boilers, and whether planning permission is necessary, is available on the government's Planning Portal website.

What effect does burning have on air quality?

Air pollution

Burning garden waste produces smoke, particularly when it is too damp or green, and this can contain harmful particles.  Burning plastics, rubber or painted materials creates noxious fumes that give off a range of poisonous compounds.

Please note: If you plan to build a bonfire, avoid burning when air pollution levels in your area are high or very high, and only burn dry, untreated wood and garden waste.

You can check current air quality by telephoning 0800 556677 or online using the UK - AIR - Defra website.

Health

The air pollution from a bonfire, such as smoke and fine particles, can have a damaging effect on people's health.  Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to air pollution, as well as people with existing health problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, heart conditions or other lung conditions.

Read more about health effects of air pollution on the Defra website

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