Fireworks are a Nuisance: The Law Acknowledges it and Needs Updating

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If an establishment near you such as a hotel regularly lets off fireworks – say once or twice a month, you can complain to your local council that this constitutes a ‘Nuisance’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. And if deemed a nuisance, the hotel will need to start reducing their noise, often by using lower bang fireworks, that will help reduce the stress levels and improve the general health of local residents. And yet. Here we have it… If you have fireworks going off in your neighbourhood 3 or 4 nights a month or even week from different sources, the law does not protect you. It is the same impact – in fact it is worse – and the law acknowledges there is an impact. But it has not been updated in the last 30 years to accommodate the growth in cheap fireworks from China, the ease of accessibility to purchase them all year through online outlets and thereby the increase in fireworks being set off. The legislation in 2021 needs change. The Act recognises the stress and detrimental health impact of unwanted noise. But it needs updating. And some very important stats at the end of this blog reinforce this need for change.

On a website on environmental law – environmentlaw.org.uk, it states, “Generally, noise can be defined as any unwanted sound. Noise could occur unexpectedly, or be too loud or repetitive. At certain decibels, it can be hazardous to health, with low frequency noise as damaging as loud noise. Noise accounts for most of the complaints that local councils and the Environment Agency receive about environmental pollution, and is a major source of stress.” OK, so it acknowledges:

  • Noise is considered unwanted sound
  • At certain decibels and even low frequency, it can be hazardous to health
  • It is a major source of stress

It goes on to explain: “English private law defines a nuisance as “an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land or of some right over, or in connection, with it.” The process of determining what level of noise constitutes a nuisance can be quite subjective. For instance, the level of noise, its length and timing may be taken into consideration in ascertaining whether a nuisance has actually occurred…. Local authorities have a duty to deal with statutory nuisances under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For noise to amount to a statutory nuisance, it must be “prejudicial to health or a nuisance” – see section 79(1)(g) and (ga) of the 1990 Act.”

Are fireworks interfering with your use of your land (home) or something in connection with it and ‘prejudicial to health or a nuisance’?

In all the blogs I have written, in the research, in speaking with people affected by fireworks, I would conclude that they are prejudicial to health or a nuisance. A lady whose husband trembles when fireworks go off, a man who was in an electrical explosion who is taken right back to his trauma because of fireworks. Many pet owners who can’t go out for fear of leaving anxious animals to the thunder of fireworks, fear when they can let them in their own garden or can’t go for walks in the dark in case some go off. People generally who are woken by fireworks – since they can go off until 11pm any day, or people who regularly say it is like living in a war zone. One friend’s dog is now too scared to go out to do ‘her business’ when it’s dark because fireworks scared her of the dark and so they regularly have accidents in the house. In all of these instances, isn’t that interfering with their enjoyment of life in their home and ‘land’? But we shouldn’t have to argue that, as the law knows it’s a problem – it acknowledges that such noise is a nuisance and that you should be allowed to enjoy your land and home – as per the example of a hotel regularly doing them who would be asked to stop if deemed a nuisance. So why are we all having to put up with it when individuals let them off regularly, amounting to the same or more amount of disturbance or ‘nuisance’ to us?

Nearly 300,000 people have signed the latest anti fireworks petition asking to restrict the use of fireworks. The FAB fireworks campaign has asked the general public to log fireworks they hear over the last 4 years. What is totally clear is that these are going off all year. It is a constant source of stress. The stats show that there is no ‘fireworks season’ for which people and animals can be prepared. They are logged throughout the year – 65% out of ‘season’. 99.5% of fireworks logged had no warning, so there is no way to prepare – for sufferers of PTSD, for animals, for people wanting to sleep. 32.5% are going off at times when most children and many adults are in bed – after 9pm. Only 0.1% of fireworks logged are known displays. Share these figures when you write to your MP.

All of this causes stress in multiple ways. And yet – the loophole in the legislation means that because it comes from different people, not one, you can’t complain and the law will not support you. That’s a mistake right? Or maybe it wasn’t back 30 years ago when fireworks were not let off even at new year very much. Nor was the internet around to sell fireworks all year.

This last week or so, I personally heard fireworks on Christmas eve (24th), Christmas day (25th), boxing day (26th), 30th Dec, 31st Dec, 1st and 2nd January. That’s a nuisance right? 7 out of 10 nights around Christmas and New Year when we want peace and quiet and to relax after what has for us all been a very stressful year. If that were one neighbour, or a hotel, I could ask the council to serve an abatement notice as it is stressful and damaging to mine and hundreds of others’ health.

People want change. The petition signatures and letters to MPs demonstrate that. They could tolerate it a few days of the year but every day? In the Netherlands they are allowed one day of the year. In the UK it’s 361 days, until 11pm , then 3 days until 1am and on 5th November until midnight. That constitutes a nuisance and the government needs to wake up and respect the wishes of the people, now that we are told we have more ‘independence’ and power as part of Brexit.

So we looked at the impact to life. How about the ‘level’ and regularity of noise?

Fireworks don’t just impact 3 or 4 houses, like noise from music can do – which can constitute a nuisance. They travel to 100s of houses, are incredibly loud, disturbing and intrusive. One person or family inconsiderately lets them off and everyone nearby – and not nearby – is subjected to listen to them, without any choice or warning. I heard today how someone’s neighbour who is a football fan, lets them off when his team wins… No warning, he just decides to create a huge noise that will massively disrupt neighbours a long way around. How can the government and MPs who just want this to go away and not do anything about it, justify that as not a nuisance? Are they getting so much in taxes on fireworks, that they don’t want to do anything? My MP argues people use them sensibly. Errr? Did you read the above? Do you listen to your constituents?

Summary. Fireworks in the UK are loud and travel a long way. They go off throughout the year. People have no warning and they detrimentally affect their enjoyment of their home and ‘land’.

It is time. Enough is enough. Change is needed.

Want to do more?

  • Write to your MP. They must hear from their constituents. If you get no reply, chase it. www.writetothem.com We live in a democracy and people have fought for such things. Use it. Feel free to use any of the information in this or other blogs on this page about the impacts of fireworks.
  • Sign the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/319891
  • Log every single firework you hear. Any time of the year.
  • Write to your environmental health at your council. You could keep a copy of your logs of fireworks in a word doc or spreadsheet and share them with them. If you know others in your area, create a group and you all do the same, to prove the nuisance aspect. Some considerate councils are looking to restrict fireworks in some way.
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