Noise from Machinery and Equipment

Plant and Equipment

When it comes to noise generated by plant and equipment there are particular installations that frequently cause complaints. These include:

• Air conditioning units or plant;
• Refrigeration units or condensing equipment;
• Extraction and/or ventilation plant.

However, any mechanical, electrical or pneumatic equipment has the potential to cause unnecessary disturbance. The level of noise and likelihood of disturbance may be affected by any one or more of the following factors:

• Suitability of location for activity
• Choice of equipment
• Size/power/output
• Position in relation to any noise sensitive premises
• Use and suitability of any enclosures or screening
• Any measures taken to prevent structure borne noise
• Limiting hours of operation


Often external equipment will require planning permission. It is worth checking whether the source has the correct permissions in place. At the application stage will usually be asked to demonstrate that noise from the equipment will achieve a specified limit below the background noise level. Conditions may be placed on it’s use including those relating to noise.

Regardless of planning permission any existing plant or equipment causing noise should be investigated by the local authority for it’s potential as causing a statutory nuisance. Ultimately the courts will determine whether the person responsible has taken the best practicable means of reducing or abating the nuisance.

Sound Level Ratings

British Standard BS4142 was updated in 2014. It provides a consistent approach to measuring noise from commercial and industrial noise from sources such as fixed plant and equipment. It is not used to determine whether a statutory nuisance exists but can be useful in indicating whether the noise is likely to affect people living in residential dwellings. There are also other methods of examining noise from particular plant or equipment; including noise rating curves. They can also determine whether a particular tonal component (frequency) of the sound is problematic and identify which plant or equipment is responsible for the noise.

When an officer investigates noise from plant and equipment he will not always measure sound levels, especially where the noise is very loud and intrusive, as it is not always necessary to.

Am I right to complain about noise?

Have I Got a Noise Problem?

Or are you just being overly sensitive? You may think it is a problem but will anyone else? What may be a nuisance to you may not be unreasonable to the average person or a “nuisance” in the legal sense of the word. Nuisance law is based on years of case law running back hundreds of years and there is no simple definition or measurement which enables us to pin-point when noise crosses the threshold for action.

Ultimately, what we are talking about when we talk about “nuisance” neighbours here are people who act unreasonably to an extent that their actions (or failure to act appropriately) could be classed as criminal or anti-social.

What you need to be sure of is whether the average person would be, say, mildly irritated by the problem or whether they would be regularly annoyed and inconvenienced. Obviously something which causes regular distress has more of a potential to be a nuisance than something which causes occasional annoyance. One of the key judgments used in nuisance law is based upon whether the problem “materially affects the enjoyment of one’s property”. If you can show that the peaceful enjoyment of your home is being affected by the problem you’re halfway there.

Remember though that the law allows the occasional disturbance and should weigh up the rights of your neighbour alongside your own. Some degree of noise is an inevitable consequence of life.

Key Questions

To be sure that there really is a problem ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it happening often enough?
  • Very often one-off problems are seen as acceptable (within reason).
  • How severe is the problem?
  • Does the noise penetrate into your home?
  • How long does it last?
  • Does the noise go-on for hours or repeat itself over-and-over?
  • What time of day does it happen?
  • If it is at night-time it will certainly be more likely to interfere.
  • What is this the norm where I live?

If you lived in a busy city area surrounded by night-clubs you would expect some degree of disturbance.

Ask for frank and honest feedback from your family members or other occupants. Do they think the noise is acceptable? Try speaking to your other neighbours as well. It could be that they have they noticed the problem and are suffering as well.

Download our comprehensive guide to noise nuisance.

Noise Enforcement Agencies

Who Can Help?

There are a number of groups and individuals that can help sufferers of noise nuisance; who you go to will depend upon the type of help you wish to seek. In most cases you will probably be looking to your local authority to investigate and resolve your noise problem; most often it will be the environmental health department who will be the principle point of contact (although it is worth appreciating that different local authorities may set up their teams in different ways in order to be able to respond to different priorities).

Environmental Health

Depending upon the size and location of the local authority there may be one or more noise enforcement officers (sometimes qualified environmental health practitioners) who are responsible for enforcing statutory nuisance and anti-social behaviour legislation. In large or urban authorities they may operate a noise team, sometimes at night-time, who are able to respond quickly to problems as they occur. They will most likely be based at your local (district, borough or metropolitan) council rather than with the County Council (if applicable). As well as noise services, some departments operate anti-social behaviour teams and work in partnership with the Police.

The Police

If the problem is part of a wider anti-social problem (say, involving aggressive behaviour) you may also contact your local neighbourhood policing team (they can also be reached through the non-emergency 101 number if an incident is happening at the time). The Police can also enforce the anti-social behaviour legislation that the local authority enforce. In addition, they are often able to respond to significant issues arising at night.

Housing Associations

Registered social landlords are often involved in policing and overseeing anti-social behaviour associated with their own housing stock; they have a range of powers to deal with anti-social tenants. As housing authorities carry out public functions they also have a responsibility to ensure that they act in a way that protects human rights; a failure to address reports of noise from a tenant may amount to a failure to respect for the private or family life of the victim or their right to respect for the home.

Private Landlords

It is not in any landlord’s interest to house an anti-social neighbour. Most landlords will have tenancy agreements with occupants that include conditions relating to nuisance. If a tenant is causing a problem to their neighbours a landlord can apply to the court for an eviction order.

Other Bodies

Legal representation can be expensive unless you are able to establish a no-win-no-fee arrangement. Apart from solicitors you may obtain free advice from your Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Depending upon the circumstances there may be other bodies who are able to provide assistance. Universities, for example, may be able to intervene in the case of noise from students; and trade or professional associations may be interested in the conduct of their members (if the noise originates from a business).

Collecting Evidence

Evidence is Key

Success in enforcement depends largely upon the strength of the evidence you and the enforcement agency collect. Firstly, you must be able to persuade the enforcement body that you are suffering from a significant problem that warrants formal action. Secondly, in order to be able to take enforcement action, a substantial body of evidence will need to be presented if your case is tested in court.

Court cases have demonstrated over time that, where the evidence provided is weak or insubstantial, action will fail (leaving the complainant or claimant out of pocket, without redress and continuing to suffer).

Maintaining a Log of Evidence

One judge recently stated that in order to demonstrate a sufficiently robust claim you will need to provide:

  • Evidence of fact and degree;
  • Oral evidence; and
  • Statements from witnesses;

together with contemporaneous records of complaints and/or occurrences.

In order to ensure that your evidence is sufficiently accurate and meaningful you will need to approach the process methodically by maintaining an ongoing log of evidence; recording that evidence continually and at the time that the noise is happening. It is best that you start to compile your diary/log sheets at the earliest opportunity and make sure they are maintained throughout the duration of the complaint.

Describing the Impact

Consider what must often be shown in order to demonstrate that a nuisance exists:

  • That a state of affairs exists (usually that a problem exists over a period of time);
  • The scale and nature of the nuisance suffered;
  • That the noise is both excessive and unreasonable.

In order to do this your records will need to be descriptive. Explain how the noise is affecting you, your family and your lifestyle. Is the noise waking you up or preventing you from sleeping? Does it make you turn up the volume of your television so that it can be heard? Can you hear the lyrics to a song?

Form of Evidence

Ultimately, the evidence presented by the enforcement agency may take different forms and may include:

  • Statements of witnesses;
  • Diary/log sheets;
  • CCTV, video or audio recordings;
  • Oral and hearsay evidence; and
  • Sound level data.

But not all will be required though and most cases rely upon the evidence provided by you, witnesses and the investigating officers.

There are also technological aids that may assist in the collection of evidence, including the manually activated recording devices issued by investigators (noise nuisance recorders). There is also the Noise App which is a mobile phone application that enables the user to log and record evidence of noise.

Licensing Representations and Reviews

Making a Representation or Taking a Review


Representations may be made against an application for (or variation to) a premises licence or certificate. Knowing that an operator is applying for a premises licence can be a little hit and miss though. Whilst the responsible authorities are informed by the applicant, interested parties have to rely upon seeing a notice displayed at the premises (on blue paper) or public notice in a local newspaper.

If you are lucky enough to have spotted, or to have been informed of, the application you may, within 28 days of the submission of the application, make a representation to the Licensing Authority (the Council). You can only do this if you consider that the proposal is likely to have an adverse effect on the promotion of one or more of the licensing objectives. This should be in writing but may be completed via email. The licensing team’s email address can usually be found on the council’s website.

You should obtain a copy of the application and operating schedule first before drafting your representation. Make sure that your objections are relevant to the application and, at least, to the public nuisance objective.

If you are suffering from a current (or ongoing) problem you should include that as background information and ensure that you have complained to the environmental health department; who may also be encouraged to make a representation.


You must ensure that the information you provide is accurate and factual; otherwise you may face prosecution. If it is frivolous, vexatious or repetitious it may be rejected. Once accepted the authority must hold a hearing to consider the representation(s) unless all parties can negotiate (or narrow differences) and dispense with the need for a hearing.

You will be written to and given a date for the hearing. You should inform the authority whether or not you will be attending the hearing in person. You do not have to attend but it is good to participate yourself as this is your opportunity to put your concerns across. If you are not comfortable with public speaking you may wish to be represented by someone else.

You will only get a short period of time to present your case so stick to the most pertinent points relating to the licensing objective(s). You can forward supporting evidence along with your original representation; failing that it may be provided to the committee clerk in advance of the hearing.

The licensing authority (usually at the end of the hearing) may:

  • grant or vary the licence in the terms it was applied for;
  • refuse to issue or vary the licence;
  • grant or vary the licence but with changed or additional conditions;
  • exclude from the licence a licensable activity;
  • in the case of a premises licence, refuse to specify a person as the premises supervisor.


Reviews are sometimes necessary where significant problems are associated with a licensed premises. In the case of reviews it is recommended that you discuss your decision with the responsible authority well in advance. They are able to call for a review themselves but also have a duty to investigate allegations of nuisance that may qualify as statutory nuisances.

They involve hearings which follow a similar format to that outlined above. Licence reviews can result in conditions being attached to the licence, suspension of the licence or revocation of the licence. It is therefore seen as a serious step to take.

Hearings are evidence-based so you must be prepared with a sufficient evidence relating to the operation’s detrimental effect on the licensing objective(s).


Any party involved may appeal against a decision made at a hearing. These are held at the Magistrates’ Court. You should not though that the court can award costs for or against any party who lodged the appeal.

Public Register

All licensing authorities keep a public register of premises, including details of licenses held and any conditions attached to those licenses. Often they can be viewed online.

Approaching Your Neighbour

It is often the case that a friendly chat with a neighbour will achieve the desired result; in fact this approach is successful in the majority of cases. How you do this will depend upon the strength of your relationship with your neighbours; and many neighbour relationships do not extend beyond a nod and a “hello” in passing.

Try to give them the benefit of the doubt; it may well be that your neighbours aren’t even aware that there is an issue. If this is the case they may well be shocked or embarrassed to find out that they have caused any disturbance.

Key Points

  • Prepare in advance what you want to say and have an idea about what you want to achieve from your meeting. At first you may wish to keep the meeting brief and informal.
  • Try to establish a rapport. You might want to refer to another more positive subject during your conversation; particularly at the end so that you can end on a more comfortable footing.
  • Don’t approach your neighbour when you are angry or reacting to the noise; it is important that you remain calm and rational.
  • Politeness and sensitivity are key. Making threats or ultimatums will not win you any friends, may create an unwillingness to address the issue and may even make the problem worse.
  • Catch them at a convenient time when they are not in a rush to get somewhere and can spare time.
  • Be clear about what actions are disturbing you and when. If they understand what the problem is and any boundaries you may have they are in a better position to stop the problem.
  • It may be that you can work around the situation by organising activities at different times or by compromising on how long they take. Be prepared to give a little and always be reasonable.
  • You need to make it clear what the problem is without making them feel like they are on the spot. They may need time to absorb the information so don’t push them into making any snap decisions.
  • Listen to them carefully and don’t interrupt. It is important that you understand and respect their point of view.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

After the matter has been brought to your neighbours attention you should give them a reasonable time period to address the problem before taking the matter further. If it looks as though the matter has not been addressed extend a second chance verbally to your neighbours but this time making it clear that the problem really is affecting you and that you really need it sorting. If this is then ignored you still have an opportunity t resolve the matter. Here are your options:

  1. Live with it;
  2. Complain to the Local Authority; or
  3. Continue to take action yourself.

If you choose to deal with the matter informally you could next try to arrange a more formal meeting or write to your neighbour.

Noise and Health Effects

Noise and Health

The World Health Organisation provide a very useful definition of health:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

We know that noise has an effect on one’s well-being. Furthermore, we know that our quality of life or well-being can have an affect our physical and mental health; there is, for example, evidence that annoyance and sleep disturbance can give rise to adverse health effects. Sleep is a biological necessity so it is not surprising that there is a causal relationship between poor health and sleep disturbance. After our sleep is disturbed we become tired and irritable; limiting our performance in school or at work and, potentially, impacting on our personal relationships. Long-term sleep disturbance is also associated with a higher risk of experiencing poor cardiovascular health.

A larger foundation of research on the direct impact that noise has on physical health is being built. Although, much of the current research relating to health effects (such as noise impact on cardiovascular health) relates to transport noise. Noise has an indirect causal relationship on health though, and there can be a degree of subjectivity involved in measuring something which may not cause disease directly (where there is a causal chain).

High Risk Groups

There are some groups of people that are at higher risk to exposure to noise than others, these include:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Shift workers
  • Pregnant women
  • Those already in poor health

Anyone who has cared for children will be aware that children have a higher awakening threshold than adults which may, at first, make one assume that they are less sensitive to noise. However, the heightened effects of sleep disturbance on children make them much more vulnerable to noise than the average adult.

The sleep patterns of the elderly, pregnant women and those in poor health are already likely to be fragmented. Whereas the circadian rhythm of a shift worker has already been adapted. In these groups, therefore, any additional impact on sleep disturbance can have a deleterious effect.

The Law

Whilst the law enables enforcers to protect the personal comfort and health of those affected it may not always take account of the particular circumstances or sensitivity of the individual. Statutory nuisance, for instance, must be measured against the sensitivities of “the man on the Clapham omnibus” (an average reasonable man). However, in relation to some of the mechanisms within the anti-social behaviour legislation, some allowances may be made when considering measures to prevent excessive noise disturbance to those who may be affected more than others.

Covid-19 and Noise – Neighbour Noise Intensified or Temporary Respite?

Neighbour Noise Intensified – Lockdown Noise

In some areas it has been reported that nuisances due to neighbour noise have risen. Many will have, certainly, noticed that the number of bonfires taking place mushroomed in the first couple of weeks of ‘lockdown’. Being stuck next to a nuisance neighbour whilst being confined to your home is torturous; thank goodness for the ability to go out for a walk once a day but spare a thought for those who are not able.

During this time the response of the local authorities has been mixed. Some have provided limited or full services though and continue to respond to noise complaints from sufferers; as well they should. Longer-term issues with anti-social behaviour need to be dealt with in a systematic way. If, however, this is a new found problem due to the recent change in circumstances it may be worth raising the issue with your neighbour. Now, perhaps more than any other time, there are plenty of ways we can find to break the ice and start friendly (socially distant!) conversations.

Temporary Respite

To those unaffected by neighbour nuisance issues, the significant reduction of transportation noise (particularly for those under flight paths and near to busy roads) has been a revelation. People have commented that they have become aware of birdsong in cities for the first time. Many are appreciating the soundscapes of the great outdoors, or the countryside, without the unwanted intrusions associated with modern life. Animals have become more inquisitive and less afraid to cross human boundaries. At least we can say that our relationship with wildlife has become more social and less distant.

There has even been less seismic activity due to fewer transportation movements and less mechanical activity. Imagine that; significant reductions in vibration in the Earth’s crust!

If you have it, enjoy the peace – whilst it lasts

I am surprised at how many people own jet-washers. Although, for the time being, I think I can ignore this seemingly over-riding human impulse for clean driveways by enjoying our, otherwise, unspoilt soundscape (for as long at it lasts). On the other hand, the temptation by some to encroach on our senses by lighting bonfires might put pay to that!

Noise from Neighbours – Loud Parties

Noisy Party? – Noise from Neighbours

Have you got a problem with noise from neighbours? Is this a one-off or are your neighbours regular party animals?

One-off birthday celebrations, such as 21st or 60th birthday parties, are normally accepted as consequence of everyday life and behaviour. Local authorities are more likely to take action against people who have regular parties, celebrations that are not conducted in a reasonable manner and those that extend well beyond 11pm.

Loud music outside after 11pm is not usually a good idea, particularly where there are other residential properties nearby. Whilst the use of DJ’s and live bands are not restricted by legislation they will be more suited to functions rooms and commercial premises than to residential premises. Marquees are often viewed (by those who have the space and can afford to hire them!) as the ideal way of celebrating a significant birthday. However, they will offer little in the way of sound insulation. Loud music, particularly at night, will have the potential to affect residents across a number of streets or neighbourhood; that is why amplified music outside is not recommended (especially at night). The size and scale of the party is also likely to have an effect on the impact on neighbours and the potential for public nuisance. Perpetrators who have been approached and who are uncooperative are also more likely to face enforcement action.

The legislation that can be used in these circumstances include Statutory Nuisance and Noise Act procedures. The Noise Act allows an officer to serve a warning notice on the person responsible for the noise and can be used between the hours of 11pm and 7am. If the noise continues after a warning notice has been served and exceeds the permitted noise level he may issue a fixed penalty notice (read more about the Noise Act). Whilst officers have powers to seize equipment in certain circumstances seizures are unlikely to be used on the night and are usually implemented as part of planned enforcement activity.

Some local authority night-time noise services are labelled as “Noisy Party Patrols” and respond in real-time to complaints about noise from neighbours. In practice though they are mainly used to catch persistent or unreasonable offenders rather than monitor parties. They can often be used to report and provide a quick response to all forms of noise pollution. Not all local authorities provide a party patrol or out-of-hours service though; particularly rural or small authorities. Many have reduced their services in recent years.

Your local authority website should detail out of hours services which will often have a different contact number to the regular service. Find your local authority website here and, once you have gone to your local authority website, search for services under “noise” or by using the A-Z links. In areas where local and County councils operate you should contact your local (i.e. District or Borough Council).

Raves and organised (but unlicensed) outdoor parties will have the potential to cause public nuisances. In these circumstances the Police may also have powers to break up problem parties and may be a useful alternative.

Have you seen our guidance?

The Need for Sound Measurements in Noise Evidence

The Need for Acoustic Evidence in Nuisance Cases

We read with interest two recent articles from Environmental Health News reviewing two recent noise cases where the subject of acoustic evidence was brought up.

The first1 made mention of Southampton City Council v Odysseas2 in a High Court judgement that resulted in the local authority loosing an appeal. It turned out that a club who had received an abatement notice was not operating at the time of the alleged disturbance that led to the service. Criticism was made of the opinion made by the officer as it was based on a single visit where the officer had failed to locate the source of the noise. Reference in the article was then made to a well known and significant case, Hackney v Rottenberg3, stating that the officer’s evidence ‘would have been more credible had a properly conducted scientific assessment been made involving the recording and analysis of noise measurements/recordings’.

The second4 entitled “Councils Need to Record Noise” made mention of an appeal at a magistrates’ court involving Westminster Council. It was said by an acoustic consultant involved in the case that the judge was critical ‘that there was no corroborative evidence’ and that ‘the notice was served after just one 15 minute visit’.

The Need for Decent Quality Noise Evidence

The suggestion that either case places any requirement on officers to provide an acoustic assessment of noise, or even record it, would be incorrect. In fact the words of the judge in Hackney v Rottenberg (the case quoted in the first of the articles) may actually offer a contrary view. The words of Mr Justice David Clarke are found in the judgement:

‘The subjective judgment in the end is that of the court. If the standard were an objective one, to be measured by some yardstick such as the level of decibels of noise at particular times of day, the case might have been very different. But such a regime of objective measures would have to take into account so many different factors as to be quite unworkable, and there is no such objective standard prescribed by Parliament.’

The Hackney v Rottenberg decision centred around the court’s right not to accept the expert evidence tendered by the environmental health staff (which, in this particular case, was particularly weak). We can not draw any conclusions over the necessity for acoustic evidence. However, the one significant point that both cases do remind us of is the need for the local authorities (and housing associations) to provide sufficient evidence that the threshold for nuisance has been crossed; decent quality evidence.

Acoustics Can Have a Place

It has been found that noise is capable of being a nuisance even when an average measured level is found to be below the background level; particularly if there is a prominent tonal component or characteristic. Judgements in the UK courts have shown that reliable and comprehensive evidence on the character and impact of noise can trump scientific evidence (such as in Godfrey v Conwy5).

Statutory nuisance is not defined in law by any acoustic standard; it can’t be. However, sound recordings may often provide a useful contribution to noise evidence presented by enforcers; particularly if they are able to be played back in suitable conditions. Acoustic measurements and calculations may also provide support to accompany other evidential elements. Importantly, though, the person introducing that part of the evidence must be able (have sufficient expertise) to analyse and explain the significance of the measurements; usually against a known standard. It is worth pointing out, in addition, that acoustic evidence and any use of standards may be subject to challenge; and, where that is the case, may complicate proceedings.

WHO guidance on sleep disturbance and daytime annoyance and BS 4142 guidance for industrial sources of noise are two examples of standards that could be applied to noise measurements. They are no measure of nuisance though, and should not be relied upon in isolation. gathering evidence around the variable factors for nuisance is a fundamental step that should be made in any investigation before an opinion is formed.


1. Environmental Health News, June 2018, p.23
2. Southampton City Council v Odysseas (OP Co) Ltd [2017] EWHC 2783 (Admin)
3. Hackney v Rottenberg [2007] EWHC 166 (Admin)
5. Godfrey v Conwy CBC 200