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Report: Outdoor Fires and the Smokiest Suburbs

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Report: Outdoor Fires and the Smokiest Suburbs

Whether you’re barbecuing, bonfiring or burning leaves, your neighbour may have cause to find the smoke from your garden a nuisance worth reporting to the council. Over the past year alone, councils around the country have received almost 25,000 reports of bonfires and nuisance smoke from fed-up neighbours.

In line with how some councils record smoke and fire complaints, some smoke reports come from factories or other commercial properties. However, the majority of reported cases are related to bonfires in open areas or back gardens.

If you have a good relationship with your neighbours, you may think you don’t have to worry about your outdoor fire pit or barbecue producing smoke but it’s always important to consider everyone in your area before starting to avoid causing any issues in your street.

The smokiest suburbs in the UK

Using data requested from every local council in the country, Radiance Fireplaces has identified the areas with the most lodged smoke and fire complaints in the country. If you’re a habitual firestarter, you may want to avoid these areas in favour of areas with more forgiving neighbours. But, if you’re a person who can’t bear to be subjected to smoke, it might be best to avoid these areas in favour of a potentially smoke-free neighbourhood.

The following table reveals the top 20 council areas for smoke and bonfire complaints in 2021/22, adjusted for population size.

Area

Reports in 21/22

Per 10,000 people

Stroud

384

32.01

Bolsover

244

30.29

Blaenau Gwent

185

26.42

Adur & Worthing

116

18.04

Merthyr Tydfil

108

17.87

Ashford

230

17.69

Windsor & Maidenhead

266

17.57

Middlesborough

241

17.1

Newport

266

17.00

Chichester

201

16.59

North East Derbyshire

168

16.56

Sutton

335

16.24

Swansea

389

15.78

Swale

231

15.39

Sandwell

491

14.95

Blaby

149

14.68

Rugby

158

14.50

Bromley

478

14.38

Conwy

165

13.96

Copeland

95

13.93

 

Smoke-free streets

For those looking to free themselves from smoke or escape their nosy neighbours, the following table includes the 20 council areas with the fewest smoke reports in the last year.

Area

Reports in 21/22

Per 10,000 people

Oxfordshire

6

0.39

Lisburn & Castlereagh

7

0.48

Sevenoaks

7

0.58

South Ayrshire

8

0.71

Newcastle-Under-Lyme

12

0.93

East Hertfordshire

16

1.07

Hammersmith & Fulham

20

1.08

East Renfrewshire

12

1.26

Coventry

54

1.45

Bristol

72

1.55

Sefton

44

1.59

Plymouth

43

1.64

Bolton

48

1.67

Crawley

20

1.78

Orkney Islands

4

1.80

Mid Ulster

28

1.90

Gloucestershire

28

2.17

Wandsworth

74

2.24

North Lanarkshire

77

2.26

Tamworth

18

2.35

 

While moving to one of these areas could be a safe bet on avoiding problem neighbours, it’s still always a good idea to befriend your neighbours, treat them with respect and avoid conflict - it’s their home too after all.

The lockdown impact on telling on your neighbours

Analysing smoke and bonfire reports from the last five years uncovers a distinct pattern in council alerts as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Likely due to our increased time inside, lack of things to do and potentially higher irritability, the smoke and bonfire complaints rocketed up during 2020/21.

Reports increased in 90% of councils in 2020/21 over 2019/20 figures, highlighting the huge change in our readiness to get the council involved during lockdown.

However, this change hasn’t gone away, with 70% of council areas noting a higher number of reports in 2021/22 than pre-pandemic. This could be due to home working allowing us to spend more time at home starting fires and getting mad at them, but could also be due to an increased willingness to engage with the council following the height of lockdown.

 


The average number of reports per year almost doubled in 2020/21 and remains 30% higher in 2021/22 compared with before the pandemic. Whether it’s due to the bonfires or the council complainers, the pandemic has had a significant effect on our relationships with our neighbours in unexpected ways.

If you enjoy a garden fire, there are a few steps you may want to consider before you light it up to keep everyone in your vicinity happy and healthy.

  1. Talk with your neighbours - If you have a good relationship with the people who live around you, giving them a heads-up that you’ll be using an outdoor fire or creating a bonfire will keep those relationships happy. You may want to tell them what day or time you’re planning the fire so they can plan their washing or other plans around it.
  2. Research what you can burn in your area - Some areas of the country have different guidelines on garden bonfires, so be sure to research what you can burn in your garden before starting your fire.
  3. Avoid windy days - Wind can blow smoke even further from your property, potentially affecting more people in the surrounding area. While you can’t control the weather, consider whether a fire is the best idea by checking the forecast before lighting.
  4. Create a small bonfire and add to it - Whether you’re burning garden waste or using a fire pit, reduce the level of smoke produced by creating a smaller fire and gradually adding to it, rather than heaping everything on and burning through it as fast as you can.
  5. Invest in a smokeless fire - If you love a garden fire centrepiece but have difficult neighbours or are constantly aware of the smoke you’re producing, consider investing in a smokeless bioethanol fireplace.

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