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Odour nuisance


Odours may occur for many reasons and may be persistent such as those associated with commercial operations and the keeping of animals or short term issues such as waste spreading. We can investigate into the impact of an odour and take action when it is a Statutory Nuisance.

A Statutory Odour Nuisance is odour which is unreasonable and causes substantial interference in the use and enjoyment of your property eg it stops you using outside areas and causes you to keep windows closed for long periods of times. It does not take into account inconvenience, annoyance or personal sensitivities and can be dependant on the nature of the area.

What to do if you are affected by an excessive odour

In most cases we advise that the informal approach is the best course of action in the first instance. This gives the person responsible time to resolve the problem, especially if they are not aware that a problem exists or to what extent it affects people nearby.

  • Talk to the person responsible for causing the problem - they could be unaware that they are causing a problem. Do not attempt to do this if you feel threatened.
  • Write to them - you may prefer to explain what the problem is in a letter as this can feel less confrontational.

If this does not work, we may be able to investigate your complaint.

What we can not investigate

  • domestic odour (unless it relates to the keeping of animals)

What we are unlikely to investigate

  • short term odour from waste spreading

Spreading of waste/fertiliser

We frequently receive complaints about agricultural odours from spreading affecting areas. Generally, the most common source of odour complaints relate to the spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), solid animal manures (such as chicken or cattle manure) and semi-liquid slurries. These materials are used to fertilise the land at seasonal times throughout the year. Prevailing winds can carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas, and it is difficult to identify the source of the odour. Spreading of all these waste materials is recognised as standard agricultural practice and is perfectly lawful.  Although the odour can be strong and unpleasant, it poses no risk to human health. As we are surrounded by working farmland, even in our towns, such odour must be expected from time to time. It is not always possible to advise on the expected duration or anticipated intensity of odours, as this can be dependent upon weather conditions. Hot, dry, still weather will intensify the odour and prevent it dispersing as quickly as on a colder, wet or windy day.

We do not investigate odour complaints relating to any of these activities unless the smell is persistent and lasts for a significant period of time eg in excess of a week, or is present frequently eg monthly.  

Apart from the smell itself, some residents are concerned about the lawful use of sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is the semi-solid material left over from the sewage treatment process. It is a readily available and a sustainable resource which contains valuable nutrients and trace elements essential to plants and animals. The spreading of sewage sludge onto agricultural land is a legitimate practice and is considered the best option for disposal. It is a perfectly lawful activity. It is recognised as a sustainable agricultural practice as it reduces the use of chemical fertilisers. Without recycling in this way, these wastewater by-products would need to be disposed of in much less sustainable ways, for example by being sent to landfill.

Other relevant laws

Some commercial processes that lead to odour, will also be required to hold an environmental permit such as waste processing site. This is regulated by the Environment Agency and contains conditions relating to the release of odour. In these cases, enforcement of these matters will generally be led by the Environment Agency.

What we can investigate

  • odour from farms
  • odour from commercial premises
  • odour from waste treatment processes: Some commercial processes that lead to odour will be required to hold an environmental permit. The Environment Agency approve these and deal with complaints on 0800 807 060.
  • odour from restaurants and takeaways
  • cannabis smoke: possession of cannabis is illegal. If you are experiencing problems with cannabis odour or smoke, you should report it to the police on 101. If this does not address the issue, then we may be able to investigate the matter under anti-social behaviour powers. See anti-social behaviour for more information.

We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints so you must provide your name, contact details and address to enable your complaint to be dealt with. 

What we will do

We will assess your complaint to decide whether it could be a Statutory Odour Nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If it is covered, we will investigate your complaint further. If it is not, then we will let you know and advise you who might be able to help if possible.

How an odour complaint will be investigated

We need to record the following sort of information to see whether the problem meets the legal test of 'Statutory Nuisance':

  • how long it lasts
  • how often it happens 
  • the surrounding environment
  • the level and nature of the odour

In most instances, you will be asked to initially keep a record of when you are affected. 

We may also collect other information on site visits, and contact with the person causing the odour. We do not share your details at any time.

What happens next

The evidence gathered in the investigation will decide what happens next.

If the evidence shows the presence of a Statutory Nuisance, we will serve a legal notice. This will make it against the law for the person causing the nuisance to carry on doing so. If they continue, we may take the person to court or take other steps to ensure the Notice is followed.

If the issue is investigated and is not a Statutory Nuisance then we will not take further formal action and we will let you and the other person know.

Contact us
Customer Services
03000 26 0000