Yes it’s that time of year again. The summer that went on forever has abruptly stopped. The sunny evening skies are gone. We breathe in cold air full of the promise of either spectacular fireworks or damp squibs – depending on the venue and budget.
Hearing the squeals and bangs of those disparate fireworks from about mid-October each year means we’re all hard-pressed not to remember the (allegedly) treasonous acts of those who plotted to blow up Parliament. Should you be planning your own Bonfire Night party or are tired of your neighbour’s rowdy celebrations do you know what you can you do? Here’s the legal take on ‘Gunpowder, treason and plot’…
What you do on your own land is your affair but, be warned, you are subject to a raft of legislation regarding noise levels, health and safety towards the public as well as what exactly you can put on that bonfire.
You cannot burn household waste or rubbish if it could cause harm to the environment or people’s health. Don’t be tempted to stick a couple of bags of rubbish or an old tyre or two on the pile. Keep your bonfire away from roads as well: you must not allow smoke to drift from the fire and across any road. This is particularly strongly enforced following the tragedy on the M5 a few years ago, when the smoke from a Bonfire Night party at a rugby club drifted across the motorway carriages. Combined with existing fog it created lethal driving conditions that led to a multiple-vehicle pile-up. Lives were lost that night, prosecutions followed and ever since the police and local councils have been exceptionally strict on the positioning of bonfires.
If you do decide to have a bonfire make sure it’s set up well away from any sheds, wooden fences or other flammable structures. It’s good etiquette to let your neighbours know that you are celebrating too, so that they can keep their windows closed or take in the washing.
We may enjoy fireworks, but for pets it can be a terrifying ordeal. If you have pets then make sure they’re in a safe area away from all the bangs. Better still ditch the idea altogether and go to an organised event instead, so everyone has a quieter evening and maybe raise money for good causes at the same time.
Private firework parties are really down to common sense and a bit of consideration for others. If however you’re organising an event where the public pay to come in, whatever time of year, then there’s a tangle of red tape for you to get through before you open the gates and start serving the toffee apples.
If you’re planning such a bonfire party you need to think well ahead. You may have to may have to apply for a temporary events’ licence to hold the party especially if you are planning to serve alcohol or have live music. You’ll need to comply with all H&S legislation surrounding public events and take every precaution to protect the public from the moment the first paying guests arrive on site. Again, you’ll need to ensure the bonfire and firework site is well away from houses, main roads and public access points, and is cordoned off to prevent the public getting too close.
It’s essential you have public liability insurance in place. As the organisers you could be held personally responsible if anyone is injured or property is damaged as a direct result of the event. Fireworks are notoriously unpredictable which means there is always a genuine risk. Without insurance, you could end up with a bill that runs in to many thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds to meet any compensation claims.
You’ll also need to consider noise levels. It’s well worth taking measurements throughout the evening and recording them so you can show any Environmental Health officers who may be called in that you’re complying with the regulations.
On the night of 5th November, you can set off fireworks until midnight. That’s an hour longer than usual (you are allowed to set off fireworks up to 11pm throughout the year, but you may want to avoid doing this unless you want some serious conflict with your neighbours!!). You can only buy fireworks from registered sellers from October 15th to November 10th, and from December 26th to December 31st to celebrate New Year. You can only buy category 2 and 3 fireworks (category 4 fireworks are for professional, licenced firework display operators only). It is illegal to sell or use fireworks from an unlicensed source. You could face an on-the-spot fine of £90, a heftier £5,000 fine or even be imprisoned for up to 6 months for more serious offences.
The best thing to do is to use your mobile phone to record events and contact the local environmental health officer at your council offices. If there is serious danger to life, then call 999.
If, after the event, you want to take matters further then it’s best to take expert legal advice to help decide your best course of action. If you’re being accused of causing a nuisance or damage with your firework celebrations, definitely seek advice and sooner rather than later.