Noise, smoke and other nuisances

What is 'noise nuisance'?

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, we are able to help with noise that amounts to a 'statutory nuisance'.

For the noise to count as a statutory nuisance, it must do one of the following:

  1. Unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises
  2. Injure health or be likely to injure health

A statutory nuisance will be more than an annoyance, and will be much more than a detection of noise. Other factors include:

  • how often the noise occurs
  • the time of day
  • its location
  • the volume, character and length of noise

Examples of noise that may be classed as a statutory nuisance

  1. Noise from domestic properties which becomes persistent and or intrusive (for example, music or barking dogs)
  2. Noise from burglar alarms
  3. Noise from industrial, commercial, agricultural or business premises (for example, machinery and equipment)
  4. Noise from construction sites (for example, building operations)
  5. Noise from car alarms and loudspeakers in the street

Noise that we cannot take action against

  1. Aircraft noise
  2. Road traffic noise
  3. Noisy vehicles (revving, horns, exhausts)
  4. One-off parties
  5. Noise caused by people walking, or congregating in the street
  6. General everyday living noises. This includes things like dogs occasionally barking, lawnmowers used during the day, babies crying, slamming doors, raised voices

Report noise nuisance

If you are being disturbed by noise, you should firstly try to have a friendly conversation with the person who is causing it; they may not be aware of what they are causing. Most people will be glad to do what they can to prevent or minimise the noise - hopefully, a reasonable approach will encourage a reasonable response.

If you are worried, take a friend with you.

You may prefer to write a letter, instead (remember to keep a copy).

If you have tried to resolve the issue yourself and it has not worked, please report it to us:

Report noise nuisance

What happens after I make a report?

Before we can take legal action, we must be satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists and that there is admissible (suitable for court) evidence to support the case.

We will make a professional judgment about whether the problem fits within the terms of statutory nuisance law.

Any reports made are confidential. However, we cannot prevent people from making guesses about the complainant.

Normally, we will send you a log sheet which you can use to record details of the noise, alongside dates and times. This will help us investigate your report. You must return the log sheet within four weeks, or we will not proceed any further.

We will also contact the person or organisation you have reported, to let them know that a complaint has been raised against them. This can usually resolve complaints, without the need for further action to be taken.

If the noise continues after we have contacted them, we will assess the log to assess whether we are able to help you.

We may visit you when the noise occurs,, or noise monitoring equipment may be installed in your premises.

If we are satisfied that a statutory nuisance is being caused, we will serve a statutory noise abatement notice. The notice will require the noise to be reduced. The notice will give a reasonable time frame for doing this (depending on the circumstances).

If the notice is ignored, we can prosecute. Sometimes, we are able to get a warrant to seize noise making equipment.

If we do not find evidence of a statutory nuisance, we will advise you on how you can take action yourself.

Taking your own action

As per the Environmental Protection Act 1990, you have the right to take a noise complaint to your local magistrates' court. Here, a nuisance order can be issued - and a fine imposed.

If you would like to do this, you will need to have kept record of the problem. Keep a log of the date, time, duration and description of the noise each time it occurs.

You will also need to let the person causing the noise that you plan to take legal action against them.

If the issues continues, you should visit the warrant office at the magistrates' court. They will be able to guide you through the process.

We also recommend that you discuss the matter with a solicitor.

Smoke, smells and other nuisances

If you are experiencing a problem with smoke, smells, or other pollution, you are able to report it to us.

For us to take action, the nuisance needs to be a 'statutory nuisance'. This means it must do one of the following:

  1. Unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises
  2. Injure health or be likely to injure health

A statutory nuisance will be more than an annoyance, and will be much more than a detection of pollution or a problem.

Many other factors come into play, too. They include:

  • how often the nuisance occurs
  • how long it lasts for
  • the time of day it occurs
  • its location (for example, urban or rural)

Examples of issues that may be classed as a statutory nuisance

  1. Smoke from premises. Please read our smoke and bonfires guidance for more information
  2. Smells from industry, trade or business premises (for example, sewage treatment works, factories or restaurants)
  3. Artificial light from premises
  4. Insect infestations from industrial, trade or business partners
  5. Accumulation or deposits on premises (for example, piles of rotting rubbish)

Report a nuisance

Please use our online form to report a nuisance to us:

Report a nuisance

Please note that we are not able to accept anonymous requests.

Danger to traffic from smoke

It is an offence to allow smoke to drift across the road and become a danger to traffic. If smoke from a bonfire is causing poor visibility on the highway please contact the Police.

If you are worried about the safety of a neighbour's bonfire, contact the Fire Service for advice or call 999 in an emergency.

Domestic bonfires

There are no specific controls, such as permitted times, over the lighting of bonfires to burn waste. If only dry waste is burnt the occasional bonfire should not cause a problem.

If the bonfires are only occasional it will be difficult to prove a nuisance in law. This would also apply if there are several different neighbours occasionally having bonfires. Download a Garden Bonfires Leaflet here for further information on the law.

If you are being disturbed by bonfire smoke from your neighbour, it is worth talking to them about it in the first instance – they may not realise they are causing a problem.

If you have spoken to your neighbour and the situation doesn’t improve, report it to us providing evidence about the frequency of the bonfires, their duration, location and how the problem directly affects you.

Bonfire guidelines

If you must have a bonfire follow these guidelines to avoid causing a nuisance and to keep safe:

  • Keep the number of bonfires to an absolute minimum.
  • Only burn dry material. This will produce the minimum of smoke.
  • Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint. The Council will collect domestic hazardous waste for a small fee - see our Hazardous Waste Collections page for details.
  • Never use old engine oil, methylated spirit or petrol to light or encourage the fire.
  • Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions. Smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening around sunset – ensure the bonfire is extinguished well before.
  • If it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours’ gardens and across roads.
  • Keep the bonfire under adult supervision at all times and ensure it is extinguished completely, by dousing with soil or water, before you leave it.
  • Keep a hose pipe or buckets of water close at hand in case the fire gets out of hand.
  • Take account of your neighbours’ activities e.g. washing hanging on a line, open windows, sitting in garden, decorating etc.
  • Consult, or at least warn, your neighbour before lighting a bonfire.

Dark smoke from commercial premises

Under the Clean Air Act 1993 it is an offence for dark smoke to be emitted from any industrial or trade premises. The maximum penalty for being found guilty of an offence under this legislation is a fine of up to £20,000. The disposal of waste is also regulated by the Environment Agency and generally speaking, they prohibit the disposal of waste by bonfires on site. We therefore strongly recommend that all industrial/trade waste is removed to a properly licensed waste disposal site.