From exhaust fumes to air pollution, and cigarette smoke to fly-tipping, there are lots of things that can give cities an odious odour, but where in the UK are these smelly places located?
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Looking at some of the country’s major cities, which locations can claim the dubious disSTINKtion of being the stinkiest?
To find out, our experts have analysed factors such as pollution levels, smoking prevalence and fly-tipping incidents to reveal England’s smelliest places.
Taking the unfortunate title of the smelliest place is Kingston upon Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The city has some of the worst congestion in the country, with the average journey being delayed by 83 seconds per mile, which contributes to air pollution, as well as a high level of smokers, with 17.2% of the adult population currently saying that they smoke.
The second smelliest place is the Kent town of Maidstone, which received 132 complaints about foul odours in 2021, which equates to 76.2 per 100,000 people in the town.
Maidstone is also served by Southern Water, which is the second-worst water supplier when it comes to sewage pollution, with 102 incidents per 10,000km of the entire Southern Water area.
With Blackpool coming in third place, each of the top three smelly places is located by the coast, with the seaside resort scoring 6.15 out of 10.
Blackpool has a very high smoking rate, with just under one in five adults currently smokers, which can have a negative impact on air pollution and also has one of the highest levels of smell complaints, with 81.7 per 100,000 people.
|Rank||Local authority||Region||CO2 emissions per capita (t)||Average delay on 'A' roads (seconds per mile)||Fly-tipping incidents per 1,000 people||Smoking prevalence in adults||Total pollution incidents per 10,000km (in water region)||Odour complaints Total||Odour complaints Per 100,000 people||Smelly score /10|
|1||Kingston upon Hull||Yorkshire & the Humber||4.2||83||23.3||17.20%||24||66||25.5||6.75|
|7||Blackburn with Darwen||North West||4.4||57.8||43.4||15.10%||19||28||18.7||5.83|
|9||Leeds||Yorkshire & the Humber||4.9||43.8||21||13.30%||24||362||45.3||5.72|
|11||Bradford||Yorkshire & the Humber||3.8||57.8||33.2||13.20%||24||163||30.1||5.64|
|12||Chelmsford||East of England||4.6||32||1.7||16.40%||28||136||75.7||5.56|
|12||Doncaster||Yorkshire & the Humber||6.4||33.2||3.8||18.30%||24||135||43.2||5.56|
|19||Milton Keynes||South East||4.8||22.3||21.5||13.40%||28||70||25.9||5.2|
|21||Peterborough||East of England||5.5||22.3||48.1||13.30%||28||10||4.9||5.16|
|23||Brighton and Hove||South East||2.8||107.3||5.2||13.90%||102||54||18.5||5|
|24||Newcastle upon Tyne||North East||4.1||69.8||52.6||13.60%||14||6||2||4.88|
|27||Basildon||East of England||3.9||32||23.3||11.10%||28||89||47.5||4.64|
|28||Southend-on-Sea||East of England||2.9||58.7||7.8||12.10%||28||135||73.9||4.56|
|29||Watford||East of England||3.4||34.5||13||15.40%||27||21||21.7||4.52|
|30||Colchester||East of England||3.9||32||12||11.80%||28||132||66.9||4.45|
|31||Luton||East of England||3||57.1||21.6||15.30%||27||12||5.6||4.44|
|34||Cambridge||East of England||3.9||24.4||16.7||13.70%||28||14||11.2||4.01|
|36||Sheffield||Yorkshire & the Humber||3.8||46.5||20.6||10.30%||24||90||15.3||3.85|
|39||Ipswich||East of England||2.8||25.3||4.6||20.20%||28||13||9.6||3.49|
|40||York||Yorkshire & the Humber||3.8||41.3||8.6||9.60%||24||34||16.1||3.22|
CO2 emissions don’t just add to air pollution, they can cause a stink in the air too. For this factor, the smelliest place is Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
The town produces around 6.4 tonnes of CO2 per person, mainly due to heavy levels of congestion in the town centre.
Congestion is, of course, one of the biggest contributors to air pollution and subsequently smells, with static cars spouting high levels of exhaust fumes into the atmosphere.
The smelliest place when it comes to congestion is the city of Brighton and Hove, where the average vehicle experiences a delay of 107.3 seconds for every mile travelled.
Fly-tipping is a practice that unfortunately saw a significant increase during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with rubbish piled high on the streets and causing foul smells.
Newcastle is the worst offender when it comes to fly-tipping, with over 50 incidents per 1,000 people in the North East city.
The local council in Newcastle even took the step of banning vehicles from back lanes in the city’s West End, where the problem was particularly prevalent.
The smell of tobacco smoke is another common feature of the country’s cities, even after measures such as the indoor smoking ban were introduced.
Of the cities studied here, Manchester has the highest ratio of smokers, with over one in five adults saying that they are smokers here. Manchester also has one of the youngest populations in the country’s cities.
One of the worst offenders when it comes to nasty smells hanging over a town or city is pollution in local rivers and other bodies of water.
While data for this isn’t available at a city or town level, the worst performing area is South West Water, which covers Devon, Cornwall, and some parts of Dorset and Somerset, with 131 pollution incidents per 10,000km.
Finally, according to Freedom of Information requests to each town and city, Stoke-on-Trent received the most complaints about nasty smells in 2021, with 860.
This equates to 335.1 per 100,000 people and is far more than any other council that responded to the request.
Looking specifically at the capital, Westminster is the smelliest place in London, scoring far higher than second-placed Kensington & Chelsea.
Westminster is of course one of the busiest parts of London, so it's no surprise that it was the worst ranking borough when it comes to both emissions (6.5 tonnes per capita) and smell complaints (168.6 per 100,000 people).
Following Westminster is another very central borough, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Kensington and Chelsea is actually the most affluent area in the whole country, but it appears it's also one of the smelliest places, with the second-highest emissions in London (4.8 tonnes per capita), as well as the second-highest rate of smell complaints (94.3 per 100,000 people).
Camden comes in third place and is ranked as the worst place for two different factors: its congestion (average delay of 201.1 seconds per mile) and its fly-tipping (131.3 per 100,000 people).
Despite this, Camden actually scored quite well when it comes to its smoking prevalence at just 9.3%.
|Rank||Local authority||CO2 emissions per capita (t)||Average delay on 'A' roads (seconds per mile)||Fly-tipping incidents per 1,000 people||Smoking prevalence in adults||Odour complaints Total||Odour complaints Per 100,000 people||Smelly score /10|
|2||Kensington and Chelsea||4.8||162.5||51.3||10.50%||148||94.3||7.63|
|12||Hammersmith and Fulham||3.5||122.7||91.7||10.10%||5||2.7||5.41|
|22||Barking and Dagenham||2.6||83.9||16.3||15.90%||3||1.4||3.33|
|27||Richmond upon Thames||3.1||90.8||15||6.20%||7||3.5||2.59|
|28||Kingston upon Thames||3.3||60.1||12.3||8.70%||4||2.2||2|
When it comes to CO2 emissions, Westminster is the smelliest place in London, although this perhaps isn’t too surprising given that it is a hugely busy area.
As well as serving as the home of the British Government, Westminster is the location of loads of tourist attractions such as Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and more, which draw thousands of tourists.
Congestion is such a problem in London that a congestion charge was introduced in 2003 and further restrictions on vehicles continue to be added.
The borough with the worst congestion problem is Camden, where the average journey has a delay of 201.1 seconds for every mile.
Again, Camden is the smelliest place, this time for incidents of fly-tipping, with 131.3 incidents per 1,000 people.
The borough has recently taken action on this issue, deploying enforcement officers and waste collection vehicles specifically dedicated to combating fly-tipping.
When it comes to smoking, it’s those who live in the borough of Islington that is the worst offenders, with 18.9% of adults being smokers.
That’s around three times higher than in the borough with the fewest smokers, Richmond upon Thames.
Westminster also has the highest number of complaints about bad smells, with 168.6 per 100,000 people, which is far more than Kensington and Chelsea in second with 94.3.
Again, this is perhaps to be expected with the sheer number of people that live and work in Westminster as well as the large number of tourists that visit.
Air pollution refers to the contamination of the air around us due to the presence of harmful substances.
These substances can either damage our health or potentially have adverse effects on the climate of the earth.
Generally, air pollution is caused by things such as gases and particulates, such as those resulting from vehicle congestion.
There are lots of ways to reduce air pollution, such as making better use of public transport to reduce congestion, turning off appliances when they’re not in use, and recycling and reusing wherever possible.
Small steps such as using a reusable shopping bag, or switching to more sustainable toiletries and beauty products can also help to reduce the amount of air pollution.
London introduced a congestion charge in 2003 to try and reduce air pollution. Drivers who pass through the zone have to pay a charge of £15 during charging times.
The congestion charge zone is one of the biggest in the world and covers the area within the London Inner Ring Road, including the City of London and the West End.
The congestion zone also previously included a Western Extension although this was dropped in 2011.
Fly-tipping is sometimes referred to as fly dumping or just illegal dumping and refers to dumping waste without using an authorized method such as taking it to the dump or having it collected from outside your house.
People often fly-tip to avoid the costs of having their waste disposed of, but it has a negative impact on air pollution, especially when large amounts of waste are dumped from commercial businesses.
London is one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, so it’s not that surprising that it might have a bit of a strange smell at times.
The traffic congestion in the capital is a big contributor to its air pollution, and subsequently its aroma.
Going back even further, London suffered from an event known as the “Great Stink” in 1858, when the sheer levels of waste dumped in the River Thames led to a smell so bad that people were unable to leave their homes.
Many of us would want to avoid buying a home in a smelly place, for obvious reasons, but what qualities are we looking for when purchasing a property? Check out our guides below to help you decide where to make your next move.
For both rankings, data was analysed from the following sources, with each city or borough being given a normalised score out of ten for each factor before an average of these scores was taken.
The total CO2 emissions per capita for 2019 according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics.
The average delay on local 'A' roads (in seconds per vehicle per mile) according to the Department for Transport’s travel time measures for the Strategic Road Network and local ‘A’ roads 2021.
The number of fly-tipping incidents per 1,000 people according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ fly-tipping incidents and actions taken in England data.
The percentage of current smokers amongst adults according to Public Health England’s Local Tobacco Control Profiles.
The total pollution incidents per 10,000km according to the Environment Agency’s Water and sewerage companies Environmental Performance Assessment 2020. Note that these relate just to the wider area covered by the local water and sewage companies, as opposed to the town or city itself.
Freedom of Information requests were submitted to the councils of the 50 most populated towns and cities in England (excluding London) as well as each London borough, requesting the number of nuisance smell complaints received in 2021.
These were then calculated per 100,000 people according to the Office for National Statistics’ estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A handful of councils did not respond to the request and were omitted from the research.
James has spent the past 15 years writing and editing personal finance news, specialising in consumer rights, pensions, insurance, property and investments - picking up a series of awards for his journalism along the way.