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Firework laws - the acid test

JUST ONE year short of the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, the new laws to restrict the purchase and use of fireworks have come into effect. Whether they will actually make any difference to the noise and trouble level at this year’s celebrations over the long ‘firework weekend’ of 5th, 6th and 7th November remains to be seen.

This August, new legislation on fireworks, brought in by the Department of Trade and Industry, came into effect after two years of tortuous debate by MPs. This tightening of the regulations has been largely welcomed as an effective measure against noise nuisance and crime, but there are concerns that growing bureaucracy and insurance premiums associated with organised displays may, in fact, lead to further problems.

INSURANCE AND INJURIES

Some critics have linked the decline in medium-scale public bonfire displays to last year's dramatic 40 per cent increase in injuries among people handling fireworks at private parties during 5 November celebrations.

Added to this, the proliferation of private firework parties means less control over noise. The new legislation bans the letting off of fireworks between 11pm and 7am on 361 days of the year - the exceptions are 5 November, Diwali, New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year. But many people are unaware of these regulations - or are simply ignoring them - and are using increasingly powerful and noisy fireworks.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) 1,140 people were seriously injured in the UK last year, over the four-week period around Bonfire Night, compared with 1,017 injuries the previous year. Those injured at private parties rose from 363 in 2002 to 515 last year. It is thought that the growing availability of powerful fireworks, the growth in imported products and the rapid growth in the fireworks industry may have contributed to the rise in injuries.

While there are fewer bonfires being lit on 5 November in Britain, there are far more over-the-counter fireworks being sold. Last year saw an estimated £80m-£90m trade in fireworks, compared with half that amount in 1994.

RoSPA believes it is safer for the public to attend professionally organised displays than private fireworks parties but some organisations simply cannot cope with the safety demands because of lack of space, or are reluctant to spend up to £500 on insurance.

Manufacturers and suppliers have noticed an increase in cancelled orders from smaller-scale organisations. John Woodhead, who chairs the British Fireworks Association, agreed. He said:

"People are finding it difficult to meet insurance conditions for public displays, particularly the smaller organisations. It is very expensive and impossible in some cases for people to get cover. But I don't think there is a decline in the big displays, though not everyone can get to those."

MORE LEGISLATION

Other new legislation introduced this year makes it an offence for anyone under 18 to be in possession of fireworks in a public place - and the police have new powers to issue fixed penalty notices to anyone breaking the law.

The legislation also covers the sale of noisy fireworks: it is now illegal to sell fireworks that are louder than 120 decibels.

Further regulations will be introduced in the new year:

From 1 January, fireworks will only be on general sale between 15 October and 10 November and for short periods around New Year, Chinese New Year and Diwali. Suppliers who want to sell fireworks outside these periods will need to apply for a licence from the city council.

Tighter controls on the import of fireworks will also be introduced.

BUT WILL IT WORK?

Two years ago, I penned an article for OUR DOGS entitled ‘Ban The Bangers’, when the use and abuse of loud fireworks was driving my pets and me mad, just like millions of other pet owners around the country. I have to say, from a personal point of view, here in Doncaster where I live, that I have noticed far less firework nuisance in the run-up to November 5th than last year and in previous years. However, the situation may not be the same in other towns in other parts of the country. The bottom line is, if a yob wants to cause trouble with fireworks, he will do so, regardless of any new laws enacted by Parliament – and the police have to catch him in the act and positively identify him as the perpetrator of the nuisance.

So, will the new laws make a difference this Bonfire Night, or, indeed, over this weekend?
Have you noticed any discernible difference in firework nuisance since the new laws came into force?

Drop me a line and let me have your views. E-mail me at: ChiefReporter@aol.com or send a letter to the usual editorial address, or by fax to 0870-731 6501