Odour

An odour can be defined as a smell that is detectable.

Complaints of odour are investigated under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and may be associated with:

  • fumes or gases from commercial premises
  • waste by-products from industrial or trade or business premises
  • accumulations or deposits of rubbish or noxious matter and the odour from them

We cannot take action against odour complaints relating to domestic premises, unless it's associated with an accumulation of waste in or at the residential property, where it may be possible to deal with the waste.

Odour is subjective. What is offensive to one person may be acceptable to another. Factors that are examined when considering the potential existence of a statutory nuisance are:

  • type of odour
  • wind strength and direction
  • duration of odour
  • time of day
  • how often it occurs.

Environmental Health staff use their experience and judgement to decide if the odour might be a nuisance to the average person and whether a statutory nuisance exists. In addition, the source needs to be determined clearly as the cause of the odour.

In practice, the odour would need to be a persistent problem that interferes substantially with a person's wellbeing, comfort or the enjoyment of their property.

Types of odour

While they may be easily detectable, annoying, disagreeable and troublesome, not all odours can be dealt with as a statutory nuisance. There may be insufficient evidence to prove that the odour is unreasonable enough to cause a nuisance or that, despite someone's best intentions, the nature of the work they are undertaking means that the odour is unavoidable. 

This may seem unfair but, in such situations, Environmental Health Departments have no powers to pursue a course of formal action. Environmental Health Departments must consider the following:

  • Odour from commercial processes: Any industrial or commercial operation has a defence against statutory nuisance known as the 'The Best Practicable Means' defence. This means that if they are doing everything reasonable within their financial means and within the scope of current technical knowledge to prevent causing a problem, requiring additional measures to abate a statutory nuisance would be unenforceable.
  • Permitted processes: In the case of a business with a permit, it is the compliance with the conditions attached to the permit that is assessed rather than statutory nuisance.
  • Odour from land: In dealing with complaints relating to the spreading of manure or slurry on the land, Environmental Health Departments follow the informal advice provided by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which is that 'manure or similar should be ploughed in within 72 hours of it being spread.' It is accepted that there is to be a certain degree of odour arising from this activity. If odour is experienced after this period and its source is identifiable, Environmental Health Departments can investigate to establish whether it is causing a statutory nuisance.
  • Odour from Cambridge Sewerage Works on Cowley Road: To report odours from the sewerage works you should contact Anglian Water on their hotline, 08457 145145. You should say that the smell is from the Cambridge Water Recycling Centre on Cowley Road, quoting the Anglian Water 'shortcode' for the site, which is CAMBST.

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Environmental Health

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