Collection crews remove fly-tipped waste at an illegal bonfire site in Liverpool

BLOG: Why our safety first approach worked for Bonfire Night

If you asked me to sum up this year’s Bonfire Night, I’ve got one word: Relief, writes Cllr Laura Robertson-Collins, Cabinet member for Neighbourhoods.

Relief that we were not waking up this morning to the news that there had been fatalities at an illegal bonfire in the city.

The truth is, if it were not for Operation Banger – which saw our cleansing crews working through all weathers over the past two weeks to remove over 110 tonnes of fly-tipped waste at more than 110 sites, then we could easily have witnessed a horrific incident.

Why do I say that?

Industrial gas canister found within a pile of flytipped waste at an illegal bonfire site

Just look at the industrial gas canister one of our crews discovered buried within one of the bonfire piles they cleared.

It doesn’t bear thinking about what would have happened had that exploded.

And sadly, that was not an isolated incident.

Our crews came across numerous pressurised cannisters and other hazardous and toxic items that would have caused injury.

The sad fact is, Bonfire Night has been hijacked by organised gangs and under the excuse of a “community event” as a smokescreen to flytip on an industrial scale.

Some sites were not even on a piece of grass. And the proximity to people’s homes was way too close for comfort – either for causing a secondary fire – or from an air pollution perspective.

At some sites, our crews were even threatened and had to leave to avoid situations escalating. That is unacceptable. No one would support anyone stopping a fire and police officer doing their job to prevent a serious incident.

The Council has been very proactive with our partners in the Police and Fire Service on Operation Banger and I was very pleased to see the police reporting this morning that anti-social behaviour incidents on Bonfire Night had dropped for the third year running.

But I did notice not everyone has agreed with our tactics.

An oft-repeated line over the past week was that if the Council had run official bonfires and bonfire displays, then these illegal bonfires would not have been created.

Unfortunately, half of that is based on a mistruth – the Council has not organised official bonfires in the past. And given everything what we know about air pollution, landfill and recycling issues as well as climate change, there will never be a Council backed bonfire.

Official firework displays are a different matter.  

The Council made the decision a few years ago not to deliver fireworks displays, mainly due to the unsustainable costs of delivering and managing an event which lasts just for one evening.

Instead, we now deliver a 10-day free festival in the form of River of Light.

I’ll be sitting down with officers to review Operation Banger to look at what worked – and what didn’t – to see how we can improve what we do next year.

I think the Council would do well in the future to help promote organised displays in our communities and I’ll be asking for that to happen.

Some accused us of being a killjoy. Far from it.

We wanted people to enjoy Bonfire Night, to come together and share the joy of a great fireworks display, safely.

Here’s to a safe Bonfire Night in 2024 – and here’s hoping there’s more joy than relief next year.

Liverpool Waterfront