Bonfire Night parties – how to avoid some legal fireworks

Remember, remember, the fifth of November… Every year it’s impossible not to remember the (allegedly) treasonous acts of a group of men as they planned to blow up Parliament, thanks to the loud bangs, whizzes and pops that light up the night sky from the start of the month. If you’re planning to have a Bonfire Night party, or are tired of your neighbour’s rowdy celebrations, what can you do? Here’s a quick look at the legal take on ‘Gunpowder, treason and plot’…

Is it legal to hold a fireworks party?

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, and 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, so don’t be tempted to stick a couple of bags of rubbish or an old tyre or two on the pyre. Keep your bonfire away from roads, as well, as you must not allow smoke to drift from the fire and across any road. This is particularly strongly enforced ever since 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, and created lethal driving conditions that led to a multiple-vehicle pile-up. Lives were lost that night, and since then the police and local councils have been exceptionally strict on the positioning of bonfires.

If you do decide to have a bonfire, then make sure you set it 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 the 5th November, so that they can keep their windows closed or take in the washing.

Consider pets

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 or ditch the idea of having your firework party completely and go to an organised event instead, so everyone has a quieter evening.

The rules for organisers

Private firework parties are really down to common sense and a bit of consideration for others. But if you’re organising an event where the public pay to come in, then there’s a tangle of red tape for you to get through before you open the gates and start serving up toffee apples.

If you’re planning a bonfire party then you’ll need to get started much earlier in the year than you’d think, as you 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 to make sure 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. As fireworks are notoriously unpredictable, that is always a genuine risk. Without insurance, you could end up with a bill that runs in to thousands of pounds to pay for any compensation claims.

You’ll also need to consider noise levels, so 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.

Letting off fireworks

On the night of 5th November, you can set off fireworks until midnight, 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.

What if my neighbour’s firework party is causing a nuisance?

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 talk to a legal expert who can advise you on your best course of action. If you’re being accused of causing a nuisance with your firework celebrations, then it’s also advisable to talk to a legal expert too.