Wokingham Borough Council does not have “a whole lot of power” to crackdown on bonfires in people’s gardens, even though it has been inundated with complaints during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last six months, the council’s Environmental Health Team has seen a 622 per cent increase in bonfire complaints, compared to the same period last year.

Councillor Shirley Boyt raised concerns about the rise but admitted the council is “a bit helpless in the face on bonfires”, during a meeting of Extraordinary, Community and Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee on September 22.

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The Labour councillor added: “In some of the bonfires I witnessed, goodness only knows what they were burning.

“They had obviously cleared out their loft or shed and thought ‘we’ll set fire to the whole lot of it’.

“It did occur to me that we don’t have a whole lot of power to stop people having bonfires. We’re really trying to play on people’s good will.”

There are no laws against having a bonfire and no set times when someone is allowed to have one.

The council can take action when a bonfire is producing “continuous black smoke” and in some cases people can be served with a statutory notice for repeatedly causing a nuisance with a bonfire, the meeting heard.

Companies can also be prosecuted and fined for burning trade waste.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr John Kaiser, deputy leader of the council, said: “We are seeing more and more commercial toxic bonfires in certain sites around the borough.

“It’s something we really are going to start dealing with quite harshly.

“Unfortunately these people tend to do it at weekends, or in the evenings when it’s dark. It’s part of their business model.

“We really are going to get tough on that and you will see that over the next few weeks.”