It’s coming up to New Year. It is normally a time for partying and what self-respecting party doesn’t drag everyone out into the cold for the firework display? The problem, coronavirus restrictions aside, is not the fireworks. It is that they have become noisier over the years. They scare the hell out of some people and traumatise a nation of pets. My dog hides under the bed in a panic, despite being an ex-farm dog used to guns. My cat is well frit for hours.
It is not just animals. Many people with autism, tinnitus and other conditions also suffer.
Shropshire Council has twice debated fireworks in the last year. On both occasions it agreed to provide advice and it has done so. But the council cabinet member overseeing regulation was meant to lobby government but has not acted. We need national action by MPs, not just debates in hallowed chambers.
New Year is one of the few nights where fireworks are allowed after 11.00pm. The other nights are Guy Fawkes Night, Chinese New Year and Diwali. The reality is that few people obey the 11pm to 7am prohibition at other times of the year. When people break the rules, it is a matter for the police but one event is unlikely to be a priority for them. There is no other practical recourse for residents under statutory nuisance legislation unless it is a repeated offence and the local authority will act. People complaining about noise often feel they must make a nuisance of themselves with the statutory authorities to get a compliant heard about people making a nuisance.
Fireworks in public displays can be as loud as 150 decibels. That’s louder than the estimated 120db of a rock concert. Public display fireworks are shot high and that dilutes the sound while also spreading it over a wider area. Even so, the noise is incredibly loud at times. The fireworks me and you can buy in shops cannot be louder than 120db but explode much closer to the ground so the experienced noise is often louder.
In the last couple of years, MPs have discussed the use of fireworks in Westminster Hall debates. These were held after three public petitions totalling more than 750,000 signatures called for tighter restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks. The debates were followed up with an inquiry by the Commons Petition Committee. The inquiry came to several conclusions, including making firework packaging less attractive to children and restricting the decibel level for fireworks. No action has yet been taken to limit the growing nuisance of overly loud fireworks.
Shropshire Council has debated two motions, a year apart. The council’s actions have been to tinker with the wording of council guidance but the current portfolio holder for regulation, Gwilym Butler, has yet to lobby MPs or the government for change. He has simply been “informed” by officers. So pretty much nothing has happened despite a public clamour for action of excessively loud fireworks.
The motion debated by Shropshire Council on 17 December 2020 was promoted by independent councillors, and members from the Lib Dem and Labour Groups. Conservative members on the council are not allowed to sign a motion that originates from outside their party machine. But they voted for the motion and it was passed unanimously by the council.
Below are the two motions and actions taken so far. The ultimate action must lie with parliament. But Shropshire Council could make its voice heard on this issue.
December 2020 motion
Received from Councillor Dave Tremellen and is supported by the Councillors Kevin Pardy, Pauline Dee, Madge Shineton, Heather Kidd, Chris Mellings, Tony Parsons, Andy Boddington, Ted Clark, Pam Moseley, Jane MacKenzie, Nigel Hartin and Kate Halliday.
This Council resolves:
- to require all public firework displays within the local authority boundaries to be advertised in advance of the event, allowing residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people
- to actively promote a public awareness campaign about the impact of fireworks on animal welfare including the precautions that can be taken to mitigate risks
- for fireworks sold to the public for private displays, to write to the UK Government urging them to introduce legislation to limit the maximum noise level of fireworks to 90dB and restricting such private sales to fireworks within Classes 1 and 2.
- to encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock ‘quieter’ fireworks for public display.
December 2019 motion
Received from Councillor Chris Mellings and supported by Councillors Ruth Houghton, Nigel Hartin, David Vasmer, Andy Boddington, Heather Kidd and Roger Evans.
- To encourage all public firework displays within Shropshire being appropriately advertised in advance of the event, allowing residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people.
- To actively promote a public awareness campaign about the impact of fireworks on animal welfare and vulnerable people (including the precautions that can be taken to mitigate risks).
- To encourage events to consider the use of silent displays with music for the youngest children and to protect animals.
- To compile and display on its website and via social media, a list of public firework displays with appropriate information to enable residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people.
- To make representations to the Government via the relevant Portfolio Holder urging it to limit the maximum noise level of fireworks to 90dB for those sold to the public for private displays.
- To encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock “quieter” fireworks for public
Action taken since December 2019
This information follows a request from Councillor Chris Mellings to Shropshire Council’s chief executive asking for a point by point response to the December 2019 motion above.
To encourage all public firework displays within Shropshire being appropriately advertised in advance of the event, allowing residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people.
As part of the Council’s Events Management process, the Council’s Public Events Safety Advisory Group Guidance 2020 (https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/media/16617/guidance-for-event-organisers-september-2020-v2.pdf) was amended to highlight this issue, and where an event organiser approaches the Safety Advisory Group for advice, the partners that constitute the SAG encourage event organisers to act in accordance with the Guidance. The second COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ resulted in the cancellation of all public fireworks displays this year; however, as part of the specific COVID-19 event management process that was in operation immediately prior to implementation of the second lockdown, the event organisers of public firework events were being contacted to ensure events that were being organised were COVID-secure. This incorporated questions to determine when and how displays would take place. It is anticipated that the principles that have driven the COVID-19 event management process are likely to continue post-COVID, and will provide a greater degree of engagement with event organisers, including those who organise public fireworks displays. This will give further opportunities to advance the firework safety advice in the future.
To actively promote a public awareness campaign about the impact of fireworks on animal welfare and vulnerable people (including the precautions that can be taken to mitigate risks).
Firework safety campaign materials (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/consumer-safety-awareness-campaigns-materials#fireworks-campaign), produced by the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), were publicised through Council social media platforms between 22 October and 8 November 2020.
The Council’s webpages relating to fireworks storage and sale included a link to the Bonfire and Firework Safety Campaign run by the Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
To encourage events to consider the use of silent displays with music for the youngest children and to protect animals.
This forms part of the advice to event organisers, which is included in the Council’s Public Events Safety Advisory Group Guidance 2020 and is reiterated by SAG partners when public fireworks event organisers seek further advice from the SAG.
To compile and display on its website and via social media, a list of public firework displays with appropriate information to enable residents to take precautions for their animals and vulnerable people
A list of events was not produced this year due to COVID-19; however, the OPSS fireworks safety campaign materials that were publicised on social media did include general advice and information to help enable residents to take precautions for themselves, any vulnerable people in their community and their animals. In the future, when public fireworks events are more likely to take place in normal circumstances, a list of events will be published.
To make representations to the Government via the relevant Portfolio Holder urging it to limit the maximum noise level of fireworks to 90dB for those sold to the public for private displays
Representations have not been made directly to Government; however, the Portfolio Holder, Cllr Gwilym Butler, has been made aware of the work of the OPSS in relation to fireworks, in particular the recent “Fireworks evidence base: report” (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fireworks-evidence-base-report), and accepts that there remains value in making representations with respect to the maximum noise level of fireworks. This is currently being discussed and will be agreed with the Portfolio Holder.
To encourage local suppliers of fireworks to stock “quieter” fireworks for public display
The Council’s webpages that provide the information for local suppliers to register/licence to store and sell fireworks includes a section on public safety. This highlights to suppliers that fireworks offer much enjoyment but that they can also cause distress and for this reason, in the interests of public safety, the Council encourages the