The law on domestic bonfires in England and Wales is very simple: there isn’t one; there is, however, a law against any subsequent nuisance that having one might cause. As the Government puts it:
You can’t get rid of household waste if it will cause pollution or harm people’s health. This includes burning it.
However, the legal principle is that any nuisance must usually happen on a regular basis to be considered so:
Your council can issue an ‘abatement notice’ if a neighbour’s bonfire is causing a nuisance. A bonfire must happen frequently to be considered a nuisance.
Your neighbour can be fined up to £5,000 if they don’t stick to the notice.
So, the occasional bonfire should be fine as long as there are no local bylaws in place that prevent it (check with your local council) and you abide by the following two points:
- You must make sure that the smoke from your bonfire doesn’t blow across a road and so cause danger to the traffic on it, and
- you don’t burn anything that could cause pollution or harm to public health. That rules out burning anything like plastic, rubber, old engine oil, and anything else that might produce poisonous fumes. Burning stuff like this won’t just harm your health and that of anyone else around you, it is also likely to be a criminal offence.
Having said that, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Telling your neighbours what you’re planning is the right thing to do, if for no other reason than it gives them time to get their washing in and close their windows.