Correction: In our original piece published on 13/07/2020, Cotswold District Council had the highest number of smell complaints. After publication, Cotswold District Council contacted us on 17/07/2020 to clarify the data and have now confirmed they received a total of 245 smell and odour complaints over the period of our study, instead of the 2,667 smell and odour complaints which their original data suggested.
This article has been updated to reflect this new information. All other information in this article should be accurate, as per the FOI data we received directly from councils.
Councils receive thousands of smell complaints from residents every year. But where in the UK sees residents complain the most?
To find out, the home fragrance experts at Lifestyle Packaging have asked every council in the UK (335 in total) how many nuisance smell complaints they received from local residents between 2015-2019.
ou can explore the UK’s smelliest places to live in an interactive map and find out the most common smell complaint is for each region. You can access the map here.
We chose to focus on smell complaints per capita– this way we can see where in the UK had the most smell complaints, proportional to the local population.
Our entire 2015-2019 data set contained 114,411 complaints from councils which had a combined population that totalled 58,343,740. This means in the last five years, 1 in every 500 UK residents has submitted a smell complaint to their council.
The UK regions with the most complaints per capita are as follows:
Bassetlaw in North Nottinghamshire scored highly with an average of one complaint for every 62 residents in the last five years. Bassetlaw’s main gripes were commercial premises and industrial
The City of London’s 8,700 permanent residents issued one complaint per 74 inhabitants. City of London residents were mostly concerned with the smell of commercial operations near their homes. One resident complained particularly about ongoing ‘painting work’.
On the flip side, these council regions received the least number of complaints:
|Rank||Location||Complaints Per Capita||Most Common Complaint|
|335||Barking & Dagenham, London||0||Commercial|
|334||Folkestone and Hythe (Shepway), Kent||2||Agricultural|
|332||Tower Hamlets, London||7||Air Quality|
|331||Three Rivers, Hertfordshire||8||Domestic|
|329||Cannock Chase, Staffordshire||17||Sewage/Waste|
|328||Sheffield, South Yorkshire||17||Commercial/Industrial|
|326||North Tyneside, Tyne and Wear||20||Domestic|
It’s interesting to note that several London boroughs appear here suggesting that Londoners are more likely to accept smell annoyances, or perhaps they are less perceptive towards them considering the amount of traffic and industrial activity the ‘Big Smoke’ experiences on a daily basis.
It is also significant that outside of Swansea in 10th, all the locations in the top and bottom 10 were in England, despite inclusion of Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish councils in the study.
Looking at the broader picture across the UK, we can make some interesting analysis:
Outside of smells that could not be categorised, the most common categories were domestic, agricultural, and bonfire smells. This suggests that Brits are more likely to complain about their neighbours’ homes and gardens than restaurants, sewage, or industrial smells.
The council areas that mostly complain about agricultural smells are clustered around the Welsh border and East Midlands, though farming smells are a common complaint in rural Devon and Kent.
The neighbouring cluster of council areas of Tunbridge Wells, Wealden, and Rother all mostly complain about animal smells such as dog faeces, as do large parts of the Welsh Valleys.
Complaints of commercial smells from restaurants and shops are mostly clustered around South/West London and the surrounding commuter towns such as Windsor and Maidenhead.
Domestic smell complaints of the neighbours are common throughout the country, though notably more common in Southern Scotland and around the Gloucester, Wiltshire, and Monmouthshire area.
Council areas that mostly complain about industrial smells are relatively few and far between, though generally these councils are in the North of England; especially around Staffordshire, Boston, and Bradford.
Air quality is the biggest smell complaint on the South Coast from the Isle of Wright to Eastbourne, as well as in parts of Northern Ireland.
Bonfire smells are a common pet peeve across the UK, though especially in East Anglia and Central Scotland.
The North of England is where the most council areas are complaining about broader ‘commercial/industrial’ smells are. From Sefton to East Riding of Yorkshire there’s a clear band of areas blighted by these smells.
The majority of council areas that mostly complained about sewage and waste are in the North West of Scotland- Argyll and Bute, Highland, and Eilean Siar councils all received mostly complaints about drainage, sewage, and landfill facilities.
In terms of timings, we can see that ‘peak smell’ was in 2018, with 24,403 complaints made in that year. The least smelly year in our study was 2015, though 2019 was only 500 smell complaints higher.
On average, the combined UK councils have received 23,357 complaints a year – or an average of 69 complaints per council per year.
We can also drill down to make regional analysis:
Most of Scotland’s smelliest places were in the North East and South West of the country.
Moray topped the list of smelly places in Scotland with one complaint per 172 residents. Angus came in 2nd, their most common complaint was ‘Neighbour burning rubbish’, and one resident specifically complained about a ‘bad smell coming from Lundie Castle’. In 3rd place was South Ayrshire which generally complained about smells from domestic property, but one resident complained about the smell of local beaches.
By comparison, the least smelly parts of Scotland were Scottish Borders with 51 complaints per capita (about one complaint per 2,000 residents), and Dumfries and Galloway with 69 complaints per capita.
Regrettably we could not source information on Edinburgh, but Glasgow City council received 1,726 complaints in the last five years, or 276 per capita. Glasgow City ranked 84th nationally for the most smell complaints per capita.
Most of Wales’ smelliest places were in the south. Swansea ranks 10th nationally, and 1st in Wales; with one complaint per 141 residents over the last five years. Swansea residents were mostly opposed to bonfire odours, specifically ‘domestic burning’.
Blaenau Gwent came in 3rd complaining about domestic smells- the most common specific complaint from this area was about the smell of cannabis. One Blaenau Gwent resident also complained about a smell coming from a ‘hole in the garden’.
Beauty spot Pembrokeshire also ranked highly, with residents complaining about agricultural smells; and one resident from Neath Port Talbot complained about their ‘neighbour pouring urine down the sink.’ Nice.
By comparison, the north of Wales complained far less, despite the fact that our analysis is per capita. Flintshire council only received 66 (42 per capita) complaints over the last 5 years, and Gwynedd did not have much to complain about either with 65 (52 per capita) in the same timeframe.
It should be noted that Cardiff comes in as the 3rd least smelly place in Wales, with just 56 smell complaints per capita, or just one complaint per 1,800 residents. Some Cardiff residents were complaining about cable burning, but most had gripes with commercial/industrial premises rather than domestic households.
Northern Ireland councils work under a different odour/noise complaint laws to those in other parts of the UK, so gathering comparative smell complaint data was harder.
Belfast topped the Northern Irish charts with 382 complaints per capita, mostly aimed at the city’s air quality. The city had one complaint per 261 residents over the last five years. The most common specific complaint was about ‘fumes from oil’, but one resident specifically complained about the smells from the Belfast Mudflats- we’re not sure what the council can do about that one.
England’s smelliest hotspots are relatively well distributed across the country, though the East Coast appears to be consistently smelly. From Suffolk Coastal (who mostly dislike ‘nuisance domestic bonfires’) past North Norfolk (where one individual hates the ‘smell of insects’), up to Redcar and Cleveland (who’s most common complaint was about the ‘odour from the abattoir’); there’s a consistent band of smelly council areas.
Geographically, the least smelly part of the country is arguably Surrey. Surrey Heath’s 89,000 residents only complained 18 times in the last five years (20 per capita). This is just one complaint per 5,000 residents. The surrounding areas of Bracknell Forest, Guildford, and Mole Valley also had relatively few complaints. Surrey locals with perceptive noses should avoid nearby Runnymede though, as that council area received 461 complaints in the same timeframe, or 524 smell complaints per capita.
In Kent, Folkestone and Hythe Council received just 2 complaints in the last five years and neighbouring Canterbury council had just 75 despite a population of 164,500. However, Ashford received 1,094 complaints in the same timeframe- making it the 7th smelliest area nationally.
The city of York is relatively pleasant, as it only received 165 complaints in total, or 79 per capital. Most of York’s complaints were about muck spreading, though one resident complained about ‘ice cream manufacturing’ specifically. Neighbouring Hambleton is far smellier, having received 581 complaints, or 638 per capita; and East Riding of Yorkshire was close behind with 1,237 complaints, or 364 per capita.
Manchester had 151 smell complaints per capita (mostly about dog faeces), while Liverpool had half as many with 75 per capita. Leeds had 91 complaints per capita, but Sheffield is the North’s least smelly city- with just 100 complaints received in the past five years from 582,500 residents (17 per capita).
Coventry smells worse than Birmingham with an impressive 379 complaints per capita compared to Birmingham’s 85. Even the Warwick Council area smells worse than Birmingham with 240 complaints per capita, including one complaint about the ‘smell of rats’. Nearby Wolverhampton is probably the least smelly places in the West Midlands with just 17 complaints per capita.
Oxford City Council received just 47 complaints (30 per capita), compared to Cambridge City Council’s 312 (248 per capita). County Durham council had an impressive 1,058 complaints, but just 201 per capita.
Zooming into London, we can see that while some of the smelliest places are the most central (City, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea). There are also smelly places further out (Bexley, Hounslow, Hillingdon).
The South East area around Greenwich, Lewisham, Bromley, Croydon, and Lambeth is relatively safe in terms of smell complaints.
The smelliest place in London is City of London, and the area with the least complaints is Barking and Dagenham- where the council has apparently only received 1 smell complaint in the last 5 years.
Something smells funny
While many councils could only provide broader statistical data, others were able to share specific details of each complaint. We have highlighted some of the more unusual complaints that highlight the very personal nature of these issues.
Highlights include ‘excessive cats’, ‘neighbour’s pizza oven’, and ‘cheese odour’:
|Council||Most Unusual Complaint|
|Aberdeenshire||Dead Cat in Shed|
|Allerdale||Urine and Garlic|
|Angus||Bad Smell Coming from Lundie Castle|
|Argyll and Bute||Animal Carcase Transport|
|Aylesbury Vale||Farm Dust|
|Babergh||Smell of Burning Flesh|
|Barrow-in-Furness||Pigeon Trapped Inside an Empty Shop|
|Basingstoke and Deane||Chickens Kept on Domestic Property|
|Bath and North East Somerset||Excessive Cats|
|Blaenau Gwent||Hole in Garden|
|Bolton||Overpowering Acrylic Nails Smell|
|Brent||Smells Like A Dead Body|
|Bromley||Unpleasant Smell from Neighbours|
|Bury||Blood/Guts Being Dumped into Lorry|
|Castle Point||Paint Spraying|
|Central Bedfordshire||Liquid Discharges|
|Charnwood||Accumulation of Horse Manure|
|Cheltenham||Racing Car Fuel|
|Cheshire East||Noxious Curry Smell|
|City of London||Painting|
|Craven||Fatty Lemony Smell in Bathroom|
|Crawley||Intense Smell from Coffee Bean Factory|
|Croydon||Emissions from Ice-Cream Van|
|Dacorum||Nuisance from Pizza Smoke|
|Daventry||Neighbour Urinating in His Doorway|
|Derbyshire Dales||Excrement That Came from The Sky|
|East Ayrshire||Spreading Hen Manure|
|East Dunbartonshire||Dead Animals|
|East Lindsey||Maggot Factory|
|East Renfrewshire||Sludge Cake|
|East Staffordshire||Frying Fat from The Crisp Factory|
|Eilean Siar||Smell in House from Rotting Seaweed|
|Erewash||Over 40 Rabbits in One Garden|
|Gravesham||Ships Delivering Bitumen|
|Great Yarmouth||Unregistered Business|
|Greenwich||Ice Cream Van Engine|
|Harborough||Pigs Kept in Premises|
|Highland||Abandoned Fish Factory|
|Horsham||Coffee Roasting Smell|
|Isle of Wight||Human Waste on Fields|
|Kingston upon Thames||Strong Smell of Coffee|
|Lancaster||Leaving Incontinence Pads in Communal Area|
|Lewisham||Putting Meat Out for Foxes.|
|Lichfield||One Agricultural Odour Nuisance in Particular|
|Malvern Hills||Neighbour Compost|
|Mid Suffolk||Cats Urinating on Door Mats, Doors, Gardens|
|Midlothian||Stockpiling of Sewage Sludge Cake|
|Milton Keynes||Onion Gravy Type Cooking Odour|
|Neath Port Talbot||Neighbour Is Pouring Urine Down Kitchen Sink|
|New Forest||Smell from Waffles|
|Newcastle-under-Lyme||Smell of Petrol|
|Newham||London City Airport|
|North Ayrshire||Smell in Flat from Dead Body (Removed)|
|North East Lincolnshire||Hot Tub Smell|
|North Kesteven||Cabbage (Cooking) Smell|
|North Lanarkshire||Neighbour Cooking For 5 Hours|
|North Lincolnshire||Accumulation of Duck Waste|
|North Somerset||Bad Odours From 14 Dogs, Ferrets, Rabbits, Chickens, Lizards and Snakes|
|Norwich||Children Being Sick on School Bus|
|Nuneaton and Bedworth||Throwing Urine Out of The Window|
|Perth and Kinross||Glue – Shoe Repair Business|
|Renfrewshire||Smell of Bitumen from Wife’s Clothes|
|Rhondda Cynon Taf||Burnt Cabbage|
|Rotherham||KP Nuts Factory|
|Rushcliffe||Bins Full of Cat Poo|
|Rushmoor||Shop Dead Animal|
|Rutland||Pear Drop Odour at Allotments|
|Scottish Borders||Illegal Substance|
|Shetland Islands||Fishy Smell|
|South Lakeland||Ferrets Kept in Cage and Dog Muck|
|South Oxfordshire||Smell from Pub|
|South Somerset||Stewing of Nettles|
|St Albans||Dead Rodent|
|Stafford||Excessive Spraying of Air Freshener|
|Stirling||Fumes from Nail Bar|
|Stockport||Malodour of Onions|
|Stoke-on-Trent||Strong Garlic and Curry Smell|
|Sunderland||Portaloo Leaking Waste|
|Sutton||Neighbour’s Pizza Oven|
|Tendring||Filthy & Verminous Property|
|Thanet||Dog Urine Is Coming Down the Walls from the Flat Above|
|Three Rivers||Smell from Wood Burner|
|Tonbridge and Malling||Son Urinating in Back Garden|
|Tunbridge Wells||Poop Floating in Garden from Next Door’s Blockage|
|Uttlesford||Dead Rodent Odour|
|West Dunbartonshire||Strong Smell of Cabbage|
|West Lancashire||Hair Dressing|
|West Lothian||Pet Crematorium|
|West Oxfordshire||Large Smouldering Compost Heap.|
|Woking||Dog Foul in Drainpipes|
|Wokingham||BT Vans Engines Left Running|
|York||Ice Cream Manufacturing|
You can see all this information on our dedicated ‘Smelliest City’ interactive map, here ->