Don’t make bonfires the bane of summer – or before

For some reason, the anti-social brigade seem to think it is poignant to set fire to their garden or household waste on the hottest days of the year, when their neighbourhoods are desperate to open every crevice that passes for a window so as to let in some refreshing air.

These miscreants do not do us any favours by waiting until evening, either, when the heat and humidity just hang around, when it lasts longer at a low level. And when the smoke is going we have to close the windows and sweat ourselves to sleep.

Most of the time of course, there are no reasons for bonfires. Surrey County Council has several dumps – what do they call them? Community Recycling Centres – to which pretty much everything that is being burned can be taken. Residents even fought to keep those considered the more parochial ones open (or retain the opening hours of some which were targeted to go part time), forcing the council to prioritise the cost of running them above certain other services.

At present, under coronavirus restrictions, the community recycling centres are closed.

Several organisations, including Reigate and Banstead Borough Council and Surrey Matters, have issued similar messages with pleas urging people not to light fires, using the topical reason of coronavirus.

The focus is on the respiratory problems highlighted and exacerbated by coronavirus. So it stands to reason that, under normal circumstances,  people with respiratory problems such as asthma would suffer from a bonfire. And that having smoke we didn’t agree to in our lungs is deeply unpleasant for the rest of us.

So what laws are there preventing bonfires?

Absolutely none.

However, a Government web page is worth a read. It says you cannot get rid of household waste by burning it if it causes pollution or harm to people’s health. Pollution? Surely the very fact there is extra smoke in the air is pollution. These pieces of guidance seem somewhat vague.

Residents can complain about bonfires to their council, but they must be “frequent” to be considered sufficient for an abatement notice. It can become a police matter when they cause some sort of danger to others, such as spread across the road and impede traffic. Fines can be as large as £5,000, or £20,000 for a business. 

These domestic bonfires are not going to count as anti-social behaviour, if you want to complain about them that way. That’s reserved for offences such as fly-tipping, which is also a potential consequence of closing community recycling centres temporarily. Or permanently. Or even charging to dispose of certain types of waste.

What about on allotments? Looking around most council websites these are down to allotment managements. Which are the councils. So if you think an allotment site – and there are several close to residential areas – is the source of a regular bonfire, there’s a potential for reporting it. 

Essentially, the authorities are appealing to your better nature right now not to be selfish and create a smoky nuisance for your neighbours. Please remember the sentiment come summer. Keep the bonfire for November. In a big open space, that has the permission of your council to run it as a public event.