We are working to improve public health and the environment. Emissions from the burning of solid fuel can contribute to localised air pollution, particularly in urban areas.
While we’re all staying at home more than usual, concerns have been raised about the health impacts of smoke from wood burners, log fires and bonfires.
Coronavirus is a respiratory disease, and many people have concerns that smoke will make things worse for people with health problems.
Please consider the health of local residents with temporary or long-term respiratory problems, and do not light a fire if you can avoid it. Think twice before using wood-burning stoves and open fires, and do not start bonfires during the coronavirus pandemic.
If you do need to light a fire indoors to heat your property, please think about your neighbours and other residents by only burning approved smokeless fuels and following the advice on this page.
Smoke control area
The first Clean Air Act was introduced in response to the London smog of December 1952, which is said to have claimed 4,000 lives. The smog was caused mainly by coal burning.
The law has since been consolidated in the Clean Air Act 1993, which allows councils to establish smoke control areas to improve air quality through the control of domestic and industrial smoke.
Cambridge has three neighouring smoke control areas covering the west and centre of the city, as shown in the map. If you live in this area you must either burn smokeless fuel or, if you want to burn coal or wood, install an exempt heating appliance that burns off its own smoke. It is an offence for an occupier of premises to allow smoke to be emitted from a chimney, unless the smoke is being caused by an authorised fuel or the heating appliance is exempt from the order.
The shaded area of the map shows the extent of the smoke control area. Alternatively you can search to see if your street is listed on the list of streets in the smoke control area [PDF, 40Kb]. Please note this list is not exhaustive.
If you live outside a smoke control area
Even if you do not live in a smoke control area, we encourage you to burn smokeless fuel or install exempt heating appliances to minimise emissions.
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, smoke emitted from a domestic chimney outside a control area can be deemed a statutory nuisance if it is prejudicial to health or causing a nuisance. Therefore it is best to avoid burning smoky fuels, if at all possible.
Guidance for burning wood
Open fires and wood-burning stoves have risen in popularity over recent years. Every year we get complaints from residents about smoke from neighbouring domestic chimneys. In many cases this could be reduced by using good-quality fuel and burning it efficiently.
Ensure your wood-burning stove is approved by Defra. Use an approved wood-burning stove, and use a domestic wood burner correctly. Stoves in this category have been thoroughly tested for emission levels and score highly on energy efficiency without compromising on air circulation or particulate reduction.
Ensure the wood you burn is dry. To cut down on emissions you should only use well-seasoned dry wood with low moisture content. Do not burn wood that has been treated, painted or coated such as old fence panels. The government is phasing out the sale of coal and wet wood between 2021 and 2023.
Sweep your chimneys regularly. Ensure your wood-burning stove is regularly maintained. Having the chimney swept at least regularly or annually helps to reduce emissions. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for servicing.
Check whether you live in the smoke control area. While it is not against the law to use a wood-burning stove, under the Clean Air Act it is an offence for an occupier of a premise within a smoke control area to allow emissions of smoke from a chimney, unless it comes from a Defra-exampt appliance or a Defra-authorised fuel is used. Wood is not an authorised fuel.
The following information provides advice on choosing the right stove, sourcing good quality wood plus tips and hints on efficient burning and getting the best from your stove.
- Open fires and wood-burning stoves – guidance from Defra
- Burn Better – information from Defra on the impacts of burning solid fuels at home on personal health and the environment
- We all breathe the same air – information leaflet from Burn Right on getting the best from your fire or stove
- Hetas – Advice leaflets stoves and fuel
- Find a chimney sweep in your area – Visit the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps
- Wood burning stoves approved for use in smoke control areas
Using a centralised biomass boiler or combined heat and power system offers a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil-fuel heating. Burning wood pellets, logs or woodchip does the same. Although these systems might offer carbon savings, the benefits to climate change can conflict with the need to improve air quality.
We do not encourage the use of biomass for centralised boiler or combined heat and power systems, because of the potential negative impact on local air quality.
Smoke control orders do not apply to domestic bonfires, however under certain circumstances they can be deemed a statutory nuisance.
We prefer to adopt an educational role to help people’s understanding of the need for smoke control areas and why it is important for everyone to comply with this legislation.
Where appropriate, however, we will take court action against persons or companies found to be committing an offence.
Evolving national and local policy
Amendments to the Environment Act 1995 are currently going through parliament, including amendments to the Clean Air Act 1993.
These amendments will help us reduce pollution from domestic burning. No further updates are expected until 2021.
For more information, read the government’s explanatory notes on the Environment Bill [PDF].