Noise Investigation Process – Timeline

Noise from Neighbours – Investigation Process

This model describes the investigation process involving a typical case of noise from neighbours in a local authority (typically, an environmental health department, and sets out a rough expectation for benchmarks. We think it is best that you have an understanding of what to expect from your local authority. This model is based on the statutory nuisance regime.

ACTIONTIPS
Day 1You contact the EH department and lodge a ‘complaint’. This will probably be via an administrator who will pass your details on to the team responsible.Can be done by post, telephone, email or through web contact forms. If you ring you may be able to discuss your case with an officer.
Do encourage others to complain if they have a problem.
Day 4An officer contacts you back to discuss your case and/or sends you a standard reply with a diary sheet to complete. Noise diaries are important as they build essential supporting evidence of nuisance.
He should also contact the alleged perpetrator and let them know that a complaint has been received, get feedback and warn that they may be monitored. Your personal details are not usually revealed at this stage.
Get the direct contact details of your case officer and his department. Find out if they offer an out of hours service, when it runs and how to contact them.
If possible, start calling them out when the noise is happening so that they can witness the noise from neighbours.
Day 34By now you should have completed and returned your diary/log. If not your case may be closed automatically. Some authorities will wait until they have been returned before offering further services.
After receipt they should contact you to discuss how they intend to witness the noise. They will need to enter your property to do this when the noise is happening.
Some authorities may install noise monitoring equipment.
Diary sheets should be completed with as much information as possible. Don’t expect much help if you just complete one occurrence or enter one line.
Keep on completing your diaries for as long as the nuisance persists.
Be persistent and call officers out whenever the noise is disturbing. Carry on doing this even if the noise has been witnessed.
Day 60Most complaints should have been fully investigated by this stage. However, a few more weeks may be necessary in areas with restricted resources.
Where they are satisfied that a nuisance exists they must serve an abatement notice. If officers are unable to witness the noise they may close your complaint. Sometimes local authorities will attempt to witness the noise a set number of times (often 3) before closing the complaint.
It may be that the noise is not loud, late or often enough to constitute a nuisance.
If the noise occurs at the same time every week ask for an officer to visit you at that time. They should be happy to arrange this.
If their evening/weekend service is limited ask whether a noise monitoring device is available for installation.
Continue supplying evidence to the case officer.
Day 67By now an abatement notice may have been served on the person responsible for the nuisance. They may be given a time limit for compliance or it may require its immediate abatement.
An appeal to the magistrate’s court by the recipient will delay enforcement but not the collection of further evidence.
If you are unsatisfied with the action taken so far make a complaint to the Environmental Health manager or follow the Council’s complaint procedure relating to noise from neighbours.
Day 90If the notice has not been complied with (and not appealed) the officer will need to witness a breach. He will need your cooperation on this matter and, again, may need to be contacted when the noise is happening.The officer may wish to witness more than one breach of the notice so be persistent.
Day 130The officer may have collated evidence and gathered witness statements. His case will have been referred to their solicitor for legal proceedings.By this stage your evidence is important to the local authority’s case.You will have been asked whether you would be willing to attend court.
Your identity may have been disclosed through the exchange of evidence.
Day 220The date for the criminal case at the magistrates court. This may be adjourned.

Points to Note

  • Most of the benchmarks outlined will probably be achieved before the dates specified and the vast majority of cases are resolved informally before the notice stage.
  • Noise policies and procedures vary slightly in each local authority so not every authority will follow this approach.
  • We feature the use of noise diaries. Noise diaries are usually used for ongoing cases and will not always be an appropriate way of investigating all noise from neighbours.
  • Construction and demolition works should follow a different (much faster) route.

Find out more about the investigation process and how to get the best out of it with our resources.

Qualifications and Professional Competence

In a recent noise enforcement forum questions were raised over the use of unqualified and inexperienced personnel to investigate and make determinations of statutory nuisance on behalf of local authorities. In particular, concerns centred around the possibility of legal challenges on appeal of a notice or during criminal proceedings. This article provides some discussion on some of the issues involved.

Introduction

Over the past few decades there was an increase in noise officers in enforcement roles; this was largely due to the increase in the profile of noise as a social problem and increase in noise complaints to local authorities. The early adoption of the Noise Act by some authorities (which, at the time, required the provision of a 24 hour response service) brought about further increases in staffing at that time. However, in recent years, services have started to reduce staff numbers as a response to public spending cuts. This could, perhaps, involve reducing salaries by eliminating the need for professionally qualified or highly skilled personnel.

It is not uncommon for local authorities to use officers without professional status to assess routine neighbour noise issues; the situation in some local authorities has become the norm and is well established. Often they will investigate cases alongside, or under the supervision of, an Environmental Health Officer. In other cases they may have a lesser or greater degree of autonomy over enforcement activity.

Schemes of delegation are maintained under the Local Government Act and are usually administered at Director or Service Manager level and specific functions, such as the service of abatement notices under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, are delegated down at officer level. They allow a local authority to authorise any officer to enforce the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, regardless of qualification or experience.

Qualifications

EHORB registration is the recognised professional qualification for environmental health officers. Those awarded EHORB registration today will have successfully passed a degree (commonly a 3 year undergraduate or 2 year postgraduate programme) in environmental health, undertaken a minimum period of practical training (usually a year) and passed a professional interview and examination.

Apart from the more specific courses that relate to the study of acoustics there are few other options open to potential enforcers wishing to ‘qualify’. The post-graduate diploma (or masters degree) in acoustics would, undoubtedly, indicate higher level of understanding of the field of acoustics. However, along with the shorter undergraduate courses, such as the 2 day or week long environmental noise control programmes (which provide some basic tutition in sound and acoustic measurement) they may not provide sufficient understanding and working knowledge of regulatory environment and enforcement regimes. The availability of suitable programmes of formal study below degree level are therefore limited.

Expertise

When it comes to the provision of evidence in court, whether a witness is qualified to give expert evidence is a matter for the court to decide upon and that ‘qualification’ may stem from formal study, qualification, experience or both (R v Robb [1991] 93 Cr App R 161). The expertise of environmental health officers is recognised by the courts. ‘Expertise’ in this context depends upon some form of technical or special knowledge enabling that person to give opinions in their area of expertise. It follows that the situation relating to unqualified officers may be more difficult to establish where it is through experience alone.

Where the opinion of an expert is not disputed the court will not substitute their own view. However, this is not to say that their opinion may not be challenged or be accepted by the court. With cases involving nuisance the court will expect opinions to be accompanied by a sufficient amount of factual evidence. It is then for the court to to decide on the whole of the evidence put before them to determine whether an offence has been made out. Even highly qualified officers may therefore encounter difficulties.

In the case of Rottenberg v Hackney [2007] EWHC 166 (Admin) the submisson of the Council was that the court was not entitled to reject the opinion of the Environmental Health Officers. Applying a previous authority the court held that they were not bound by the opinion of the witness (see R v Stockwell [1993] 97 Cr App R 260). Furthermore, to be accepted as expert evidence it was asserted that the officer must be in a position to provide assistance that the court would otherwise lack. In Rottenberg v Hackney the evidence provided by the professionals was, in effect, limited to factual evidence of their own observations.

Does this mean that the status of the ‘skilled officer’ no better than the ‘unskilled’ one (or, indeed, the layman) in noise cases? The answer must be “no”. They may still be regarded as an expert (or ‘skilled witness’) but, in order for their evidence to be appreciated as ‘expert evidence’, there is a need to qualify evidence by providing information that the court is unable to gleen by itself. This will usually involve some form of analysis, survey, interpretation of facts or information. Such evidence might, for example, be based on any or combination of the following:

  • Information given relating to the nature of the character of the area
  • The status and history of any structural development in the area
  • Knowledge of the building and any acoustic factors relating to that specific case
  • Any acoustic measurements made and their interpretation
  • Their opinion on the adequacy of any means employed to minimise nuisance

One of the difficulties of assessing nuisance by ‘unqualified’ officers is that the opinions of those not regarded as ‘experts’ should be disregarded in court. They are limited to providing factual evidence of their observations alone. However, as one of the key tenants of nuisance legislation relates to the formation of an ‘opinion’ by the local authority decisions on enforcement may be being made by personel who may not be regarded themselves as having the necessary skills (or ‘expertise’) to perform this task.

Competence

Whilst the authority may authorise whomever they wish to undertake noise investigations the question for the local authority must be whether they are able to satisfy themselves that the officer carrying out this task (whether they be EHORB registered or not) is (a) qualified to make enforcement decisions; and (b) competent to make those decisions. Whilst professional qualifcations may demonstrate a high level of competence at the time of the award is issued this competence can fade over time. Furthermore, new legislation is regularly introduced and case law is constantly evolving. The issue of competence in regulatory compliance has therefore been addressed recently through the Local Better Regulation Office through the Regulators Developmental Needs Anaylsis tool. The tool provides a basis to identify and prioritise developmental needs for all enforcement personell. Whilst RDNA may have not yet be applied to noise enforcement roles it serves as an example of internal control necessary to manage competence; and a similar approach may be adopted by authorities. It may also form part of the Authority’s wider quality procedures that might also involve monitoring and scrutiny of enforcement activity and officer caseloads.

Conclusion

As explained, there is a lot more to the authorisation of noise enforcement officers than certificates, training and box ticking. Consideration of the extent of responsibility afforded to officers, the qualifications they must posess and their ongoing competence must be considered within the individual authority’s quality framework; and, in that sense, it’s just as much about the management competence of the Authority itself.


You can find links to professional bodies and other organisations here.

Summary of the Main Legislation

The following provides a brief summary of the main specific noise pollution laws invoked in relation to neighbourhood noise and nuisance issues.

STATUTORY NUISANCES

Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 lists two statutory nuisances relating to noise:

(a)    Noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance; and
(b)    Noise emitted from or caused by a vehicle, machinery, or equipment (which term includes a musical instrument) in a street, which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance.

When, after investigation, it is found that a complaint from a resident falls into one of the above categories the local authority must serve an abatement notice. Where the terms of a section 80 abatement notice are not complied with the local authority may initiate criminal proceedings. They (by virtue of s.10 of the Noise Act 1996) may also seize and remove equipment.

Other Noise Pollution Laws

PERSONS AGGRIEVED – TAKE YOUR OWN ACTION

Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 enables magistrates (or a sheriff in Scotland) to take action on receipt of a complaint from a person aggrieved by noise that amounts to a nuisance. Complaints may be made by occupiers of premises and may relate to noise emitted from premises or from vehicles in the street (but does not apply to noise from aircraft, traffic, military or Crown).

If the magistrate is satisfied that the nuisance exists (or existed and is likely to recur) it may make an order requiring the person responsible to abate the nuisance within a certain time (or to prohibit it recurrence). Where the person responsible can’t be found proceedings may be brought against the owner or occupier.

We explain more about how you can take your own action to resolve noise in our tutorial.

NIGHTIME NOISE

In England and Wales noise emitted from residential or licensed premises between the hours of 11pm and 7am exceeding the permitted level may be investigated by an authorised officer of the local authority. A warning notice may be served on the person who appears to be responsible for the offending premises. If, after a minimum period of 10 minutes after service, the permitted level is exceeded the person responsible may be found guilt of an offence. A fixed penalty procedure is available as an alternative to prosecution.

NOISE FROM AUDIBLE INTRUDER ALARMS

Authorised officers of the local authority have powers to enter premises and silence intruder alarms where they have been sounding continuously for 20 minutes or intermittently for an hour and are likely to give cause for annoyance. In order to gain entry using reasonable force a warrant must first be obtained from a magistrate.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 contains powers for local authorities to designate alarm notification areas. The provisions require occupiers or owners of any premises to notify the local authority of key-holders. There are fixed penalty notices for those who fail to nominate or notify of key-holders.

NOISE FROM CONSTRUCTION SITES

Sections 60 and 61 of the control of Pollution Act 1974 provide powers for local authorities to restrict noise relating to work carried out on construction or demolition sites. This includes the ability to specify hours of work or restrict types of equipment used.


You can read in more depth about the laws and how you can ensure that are applied properly with our Resources.

Cockerels & Other Birds

Noisy Birds, Crowing Cockerels & Peacocks

Most male birds make some noise, particularly at dawn. Whilst wild bird song can be particularly loud noisy birds are not generally accepted as a problem (and even if it were there would be little one could do about it!). However, noise from domestic or farmed birds do sometimes generate complaints from neighbours and can be considered for action under the statutory nuisance legislation.

Crowing cockerels can be a problem in some areas, particularly in urban or residential settings. Chickens are less of an issue. As with most noisy birds, owning more than one male may cause them to become competitive (i.e. noisier!). Shutting cockerels in dark hen houses until a reasonable hour may help reduce the noise as will the location of pens. Guinea fowl can also be a cause for concern.

Peacocks can cause a lot of annoyance particularly during the mating season. Whilst their calls are more frequent at dawn and dusk they can also be noisy throughout the day. The location of pens and housing routines may help control noise. Again, they are not suitable for keep in residential areas

Aviaries can be a problem in confined residential settings (often depending upon the number and breed of birds being kept). Enthusiasts should think twice before installing structures or committing to bird-keeping, particularly in residential areas.

Action to reduce noise may include reduction in numbers, re-positioning of enclosures or, even, removal of birds.

In response to the increasing number of incidents of noise from cockerels being reported to Councils the Poultry Club has produced these guidelines on the keeping of cockerels, which it hopes, will be of value to poultry keepers; Environmental Health Officers, District Councillors, and interested members of the public.

We hope this information helps.


Keep in Touch

Dancing with the Grim RIPA

CHANGES TO RIPA

There were some changes to the way that local authorities go about surveillance activities. The provisions brought about by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 tightened surveillance authorisation procedures and further restricted the ability to conduct directed surveillance activities. The rules impose a “crime threshold” so that local authorities may now only authorise the use of directed surveillance to prevent or detect criminal offences that are assigned a maximum term of at least 6 months imprisonment; effectively, excluding cases involving statutory nuisance.

The change to legislation does not affect noise investigations in the sense that the definitions of intrusive and directed surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 remain unchanged. However, in this area there still appears to be some contraversy and confusion as to where enforcers stand in relation to noise investigations and surveillance in their day-to-day work.

RIPA AND STATUTORY NUISANCE

Generally speaking local authorities are not permitted to use intrusive surveillance techniques to gather evidence. In addition, in the case of statutory nuisance, RIPA does not allow for the authorisation of directed surveilance at any stage prior to the service of an abatement notice. This is due to RIPA providing for local authorities to conduct surveillance for the purpose of “preventing and detecting crime or preventing disorder”. The vast majority of noise cases do not involve the service of an abatement notice (a civil procedure). Thus, in order to take full advantage of any evidence gathered by the local authority it would be preferable that “surveillance” fell outside of the scope of RIPA; in that it is neither intrusive or directed.

INTRUSIVE SURVEILLANCE

Surveillance is intrusive if it is covert and carried out in relation to anything taking place on any residential premises carried out by an individual or surveillance device on that premises. Where the surveillance device is not located at the premises being surveyed its use may still constitute intrusive surveillance if the device “consistently provides information of the same quality and detail as might be expected to be obtained from a device actually present on the premises”. The use of high quality sound recording equipment may therefore, in some circumstances, fall under the scope of intrusive surveillance where they are used covertly.

DIRECTED SURVEILLANCE

Whilst intrusive surveillance applies to information gathered from residential premises it appears not apply to the surveillance of commercial or industrial premises. However, both may fall under the scope of directed surveillance. Surveillance is directed if it is:

(a) Covert but not intrusive;
(b) Carried out for a specific investigation;
(c) Carried out in such a manner as is likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person;
(d) Carried out otherwise than as an immediate response to events or circumstances.

Crucial to the interpretation of “directed surveillance” then are the following terms:

  • Covert;
  • Private information;
  • Specific investigations; and
  • Immediate response.

COVERT SURVEILLANCE

“Surveillance is covert if, and only if, it is carried out in a manner that is calculated to ensure that persons who are subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place”. As a result it may be sufficent at the start of an investigation for the officer to provide a clear warning to the alleged perpetrator that their investigation may involve monitoring and recording noise from neighbouring property. Many Councils will do this routinely.

PRIVATE INFORMATION

Private information should be taken generally to include “any aspect of a person’s private or personal relationship with others”. It could therefore encompass many aspects of life and communication with others. Unlimited recording of the activities of neighbours with the use of noise nuisance recording devices will undoubtably trigger the need for authorisation where investigations are covert as they provide a recording of the sound experienced by the sufferer. However, the Code of Practice states that an authorisation may not be necessary in the case of the covert recording of suspected noise nuisance “where the intention is only to record excessive noise levels from adjoining premises and the recording device is calibrated to record only excessive noise levels”. The implication is that this “exemption” is likely to be more relevant to investigations undertaken under the Noise Act 1996 rather than statutory
nuisance. However, it may be argued that the use of devices to record noise such as music, barking dogs or noise not involving the potential for capturing personal information (such as actual conversation) falls outside the scope of directed surveillance.

SPECIFIC INVESTIGATIONS

The majority of neighbour noise investigations will, by their very nature, involve a reactive response directed to a specific investigation. The definition of directed surveillance may, in effect, limit the ability of enforcers to monitor commercial (e.g. licensed) premises unless it is in response to a specific complaint or if it forms part of a general or routine inspection or, perhaps, wider project involving more than one premises.

IMMEDIATE RESPONSES

Where covert surveillance, likely to reveal private information, is carried out by way of an immediate response to events it may not require directed surveillance authorisation. This may include immediate responses to noise complaints on out-of-hours or night-time response services. Both the legislation and the Code recognise that it would not be reasonably practicable to seek authorisations in such circumstances.

CONCLUSION

The duties placed on local authorities to investigate and survey for nuisance provide an implied authority to conduct surveillance activity but the local authority must always consider whether their activity falls into the definition of intrusive or directed surveillance. The carrying out “overt” surveillance may provide enough flexibility to enforcers to conduct suitable noise investigations. The decision to conduct “overt” investigations shouldn’t ride roughshot over the rights of individuals though and it is important to recognise that public authorities must still consider compatability with Convention Rights when conducting investigations. In the absence of any legal authority on the issue Councils are advised to clarify duties, methods of investigation and proposed time-scales at the earliest opportunity.

The courts have a wide discretion in accepting different forms of evidence in civil proceedings (especially where it is compelling). Enforcers therefore need not worry themselves too much over the minuiaes of RIPA. In court (and it rarely gets this far), and at worst, they run the risk of some evidence not being accepted. Furthermore it is worth remembering that, in many respects, human rights laws mirror nuisance laws in the sense that it will consider balancing interests and the principle of proportionality. The protocol right to peaceful enjoyment should therefore not be disregarded due to a perpetrator’s right to privacy.

National Planning Policy Framework & Noise Policy Statement for England

Acoustic Design for Development post PPG24

Introduction

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into force in March 2012 and represents the government’s commitment to sustainable development, through its intention to make the planning system more streamlined, localised and less restrictive. It aims to do this by reducing regulatory burdens and by placing sustainability at the heart of development process.

With regard to acoustic design and noise control, the NPPF provides a set of overarching aims, broadly reflecting those already contained in the Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE). They are directed towards the avoidance of significant adverse impacts and reduction of other adverse impacts on health and quality of life; set within the context of the Government’s policy on sustainable development.

Now that the NPPF has been introduced previous Planning Policy Guidance on Noise (PPG24) has been withdrawn; creating a gap between policy aims and any technical guidance available by which the realisation of those aims can be achieved.

There is an emphasis within the new framework on local planning authorities to create local policy and guidance which reflects both the NPPF and the NPSE, whilst at the same time reflecting the needs and priorities of their communities.

The National Planning Policy Framework

The introduction to the National Planning Policy Framework states:

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Governments planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied, only to the extent that it is relevant, proportionate and necessary to do so. It provides a framework within which local people and their accountable councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans, which reflect the needs and priorities of their communities.

Under the heading of Conserving and Enhancing the Natural Environment, noise aims are detailed at s.123, which states that:

Planning policies and decisions should aim to:

  • avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development;
  • mitigate and reduce to a minimum other adverse impacts on health and quality of life arising from noise from new development, including through the use of conditions;
  • recognise that development will often create some noise and existing businesses wanting to develop in continuance of their business should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land uses since they were established; and
  • identify and protect areas of tranquillity which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason.

Further NPPF aims related to noise include:

Clause 109

The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by: preventing both new and existing development from contributing to or being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability;

Clause 111

Planning policies and decisions should encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. To prevent unacceptable risks from pollution and land instability, planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development is appropriate for its location. The effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, the natural environment or general amenity, and the potential sensitivity of the area or proposed development to adverse effects from pollution, should be taken into account.

Sustainable Development

At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which is seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision making. This will mean that local plans should meet objectively assessed needs with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole.

Where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, permission should be granted unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole

It can be seen that the NPPF is consistent with the move towards localism, placing local policy at the heart of noise management in new development.

Noise Policy Statement for England

NPPF affirms that National Policy Statements form part of the overall framework of national planning policy, and should be a material consideration in decisions on planning applications. The Noise Policy Statement for England  came into force  in 2010 and states:

  • The aim of this document is to provide clarity regarding current policies and practices to enable noise management decisions to be made within the wider context, at the most appropriate level, in a cost-effective manner and in a timely fashion.
  • This Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) should apply to all forms of noise including environmental noise, neighbour noise and neighbourhood noise. The NPSE does not apply to noise in the workplace (occupational noise).

Noise Policy Vision

Promote good health and a good quality of life through the effective management of noise within the context of Government policy on sustainable development.

Noise Policy Aims

Through the effective management and control of environmental, neighbour and neighbourhood noise within the context of Government policy on sustainable development:

  • avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life;
  • mitigate and minimise adverse impacts on health and quality of life; and
  • where possible, contribute to the improvement of health and quality of life.

The NPPF noise aims widely reflect those in NPSE. The NPSE does however include some context within the explanatory note to assessing noise impact and uses established concepts from toxicology currently being applied to noise impacts, these include:

NOEL – No Observed Effect Leve. This is the level below which no effect can be detected. In simple terms, below this level, there is no detectable effect on health and quality of life due to the noise.

SOAEL – Significant Observed Adverse Effect Leve. This is the level above which significant adverse effects on health and quality of life occur.

LOAEL – Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level. This is the level above which adverse effects on health and quality of life can be detected.

However, it’s clear that it is not possible to have a single objective noise-based measure that defines SOAEL that is applicable to all sources of noise in all situations. Consequently, the SOAEL is likely to be different for different noise sources, for different receptors and at different times.

Opportunities and Threats

Whilst PPG 24 may have been a hybrid of policy and technical advice, it was referenced either directly or indirectly in most Local Authority Policy statements related to noise and, in many cases, formed the basis for Supplementary Planning Guidance (primarily produced and used by Environmental Health Departments to inform residents, developers and acoustic consultants on appropriate design criteria for noise sensitive and noise generating development).

With the introduction of the NPPF/NPSE opportunities exist for Local Authorities to introduce and implement smart acoustic design into local policy where the soundscape of the locality, along with an integrated approach to  work and living spaces, are considered at the appropriate stage; and not just add-ons to ensure compliance with a single figure target.

Local Technical Advice

Even with the removal of PPG24 there are existing sources of national and international guidance, which may inform the production of local  technical guidance related acoustic design for  noise sensitive and noise generating development. These may include:

  • BS8233: 1999: ‘Sound Insulation and Noise Reduction for Buildings – Code of Practice’
  • BS4142 1997 Method for rating industrial noise affecting mixed residential and industrial areas
  • BS 5228-2:2009- Code of practice for noise and vibration control on construction and open sites
  • WHO 1999 Guidelines for Community Noise
  • NPPF Technical Advice for Mineral Extraction
  • BS 6742 2008- Guide to evaluation of human exposure to vibration in buildings
  • BS 7385 Evaluation and measurement for vibration in buildings. Guide to damage levels from ground borne vibration
  • Noise council CoP on Environmental Noise from concerts 1995
  • IS) 1996 Acoustics  Description, measurement and assessment of environmental noise

Local Guidance will need to reflect the aims detailed in the NPSE. As a consequence, this may mean that development objectives include:

  • Reduction of noise in noisy areas or no increase in noise in quite areas
  • The use of all reasonable practicable measures to avoid an increase in noise or minimise any increase in noise
  • Levels of noise above SOAEL will typically be inappropriate for development unless other significant sustainability benefits outweigh adverse noise impacts.

The relationship  between sustainability and compliance with acoustic design criteria may be flexible and require a form of cost-benefit analysis, or other assessment, in order to demonstrate that development is acceptable. However, in the first instance, the following noise criteria outcomes may typically apply:

Noise Impact Noise Impact Category Acoustic  Acceptability Outcome
  • Development does not give rise to significant adverse impact on health and quality of life.
  • Other adverse impacts can be minimised / mitigated through standard design.

A

Development is suitable/acceptable without further acoustic design requirements
  • Development may give  rise to significant adverse impact/ other adverse impact  on health and quality of life.
  • Significant adverse impacts and other adverse impacts cannot be minimised without acoustic intervention in terms of design /noise control.

B

Development is in principal suitable/ acceptable subject to acoustic  design requirements
  • Even with proposed mitigation Development gives rise to significant adverse impact on health and quality of life.

C

Development is  unsuitable /unacceptable

Table1 : Development noise impact and acoustic acceptability outcome matrix

The process for LA’s will  obviously be challenging and will require new considerations, however failure to deal with this at the appropriate  stage or simply waiting for national guidance to emerge may lead to negative outcomes on local communities, including:

  • Leaving  the door open to inappropriate and unacceptable development (leading to a loss of quality of life);
  • The potential for further inconsistency amongst local authorities with regard to acoustic design requirements; and
  • By allowing  self-selecting interested parties to over emphasise noise impact issues (effectively sterilising an area against development and the economic  benefits it brings).

Author: Chris Hurst BSc, MCIEH, MIOA.

Email: chris@threespiresacoustics.co.uk

Views expressed are those of the author only.

Noise from Concerts & Festivals

Noise from Concerts and Festivals

Summer brings with it the potential for noise from concerts and festivals. Outdoor events have increased in popularity in recent years. Most large concerts and festivals will require a premises licence to operate (issued under the Licensing Act 2003). That will stipulate the times at which live music can be played and may also list a number of other conditions relating to the prevention of public nuisance; for example, established events will normally operate to a maximum decibel level. At large festivals they often monitor sound levels in order to check that conditions are not broken.

If a licence has been issued this will usually be the primary legislative control that is used by local authority environmental health and licensing departments. If any of the terms of the licence or licensing conditions are broken they can be prosecuted or the licence reviewed (depending upon the severity of the offence).

Where the terms of the licence are not broken but the noise from concerts or festivals (or any other form of public nuisance resulting from its operation) is still deemed to be excessive the licence may be reviewed by any responsible authority or interested party. Interested parties in this context are likely to be those who are directly affected by the event(s) taking place. Usually a reduction in time of operation (e.g. not beyond 11pm) or a reduction in the number of events can help reduce the impact. Some sites are just not suitable as live music venues, particularly if they are located in noise sensitive areas.

Existing (fixed) concert venues should have rigorous sound management plans in place and will usually adhere to stricter conditions on noise abatement and safety. A preliminary noise risk assessment will be necessary to determine likely impact. Neighbours will often understand that a certain amount of noise from outdoor events is inevitable and that a balance of interests must be struck.

We provide further advice to operators and regulators on live music. Comprehensive guidance may be downloaded here.


We provide a range of resources for sufferers of noise nuisance and for those who manage venues or noise enforcement services.

Noise from DIY activities

From time to time people it is inevitable that neighbours will need to complete maintenance tasks on property, improve living conditions or change decor. Most people can accept a certain amount of noise generated from DIY activity, even during evenings or at weekends, so DIY generally does not become a problem unless it:

  • Continues over a prolonged period of time
  • Is carried out continuously, or on consecutive days, without a break
  • Takes place at unsociable hours or repeated evenings

Letting your neighbour know that it is causing disturbance or enquiring as to how long works are expected to continue, would be a reasonable first step. Those involved might also consider requesting that no works take place after a certain hour or that work is not undertaken on a particular day, for example, if you are expecting guests or need to study. In other cases people may prefer to suffer an extended  period of noise in the short term so that projects can be finished sooner.

Where neighbours are uncooperative or unreasonable you may contact the environmental health service. DIY noise is more likely to be considered a statutory nuisance if it is ongoing problem so they may ask you to keep a log of disturbance.

You can find out more about the investigation process here. In most cases a conversation will resolve any differences between parties. If the local authority become involved a letter may be sent to the person carrying out the work.

Where works are undertaken by contractors (for example refurbishments, extensions or house building) we have other information that may be of value.

Best Practicable Means

The defence of Best Practicable Means is available with respect to noise emitted from industrial, trade or business premises. It is available as a ground for appeal and as a defence to prosecution when it is alleged that a notice, served under section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, has been breached.

A short audio update was given some time ago on some interesting cases relating to BPM and statutory nuisance (recorded some time ago now but still informative).

Notes

In a defence against prosecution the defendant may raise the defence of ‘reasonable’ excuse or ‘best practicable means’ (BPM).

Where a statutory nuisance is proven and shown to have existed in a prosecution the defence of best practicable means is available but, in the main, in relation to nuisance arising on industrial, trade and business premises. It, effectively, provides businesses some flexibility in the way in which they operate. 

Provisions providing some interpretation of the term BPM are given in section 79(9).

When considering the defence of BPM it is up to the courts to decide whether the best practicable means has been used; and up to the defendant to justify why the particular means employed by them are better than others (to the civil standard). In doing so the courts may consider the financial implications of abating a nuisance; such was the case in St Albans District Council v Patel. The means involved provide a useful practical reference (rather than precedent) to the approach that may be taken to BPM.

Patel had mounted a successful defence at the magistrates in relation to noise emanating from his pub garden using the BPM defence. The Council appealed that decision. At the High Court it was heard that the licensee had taken several measures to reduce noise experienced by neighbours, including:

  • restricting the numbers of customers permitted to use the garden;
  • closing part of the garden; and
  • reducing the times at which the remainder of the garden could be used.

In addition, he had even paid for double glazing to be installed at one property.

Mr Patel was able to show that the profit generated in the summer months balanced the loss experienced during winter; and that this was largely dependent upon the use of the garden. The Council’s appeal was therefore dismissed.

Costs will not always be a factor though (when considering BPM) and the courts will also take into account other factors such as the locality and severity of the offence.


You can earn CPD and learn about abatement notices.

Noise from Intruder Alarms

Where noise from intruder alarms becomes a problem, i.e. when they malfunction or sound continuously, they need to be switched off to prevent prolonged disturbance. This can be particularly problematic at night. Having access to key-holder details can speed the process up and prevent the need for enforcement action. However, local authorities often face difficulties when trying to find key holders and do not generally keep databases themselves. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 allows local authorities to designate ‘alarm notification areas’ in which alarm-holders must nominate a key-holder and notify the local authority of that key-holder’s contact details. However, relatively few local authorities have chosen to apply this designation.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act empowers local authorities to enter premises in order to silence alarms where key-holders cannot be reached or where they are not located in an alarm notification area. The powers of entry apply when an alarm has been sounding for 20 minutes continuously or 1 hour intermittently, is likely to cause annoyance to those in the vicinity and that (if it is located within an alarm notification area) reasonable measures have been taken to locate a key-holder.

The test is lower than that of statutory nuisance and the noise need not be witnessed from a neighbouring property. In addition the powers of entry are enhanced and allow alarms to be turned off on land without the need for a warrant. However, where force is required to gain entry to a property to silence the alarm a warrant will need to be obtained from a magistrate. This may provide delays to the process. The owner of the property is usually charged for the cost of calling out a locksmith and any other charges incurred from applying these powers.

Where local authority out of hours services are limited neighbours should contact their environmental health department as soon as possible in the morning in order to give them time to resolve the issue (i.e. if you can help it do not leave it until late in the afternoon). The investigating officer should usually be able to resolve the problem within 3 to 4 hours of being notified.