Noisy Neighbours UK – Our Survey Results Revealed
Background and Purpose
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE
Our Noisy Neighbours UK survey revealed some interesting information about the numbers of noise complaints being received by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We asked each local authority in the UK how many noise complaints they received, how much enforcement action they took and about officer staffing levels. Data was provided by 340 respondents out of the 374 local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a response rate of 91%). During the course of the research we have compared the data received to government data and national indices; and are able to outline some interesting findings (due to differing noise enforcement mechanisms in Scotland we excluded their data from the survey).
As well as locating the UK’s noisiest local authority areas our survey set out to determine whether we were able to make any meaningful comparison between local authority noise complaint and enforcement activity.
422,250 noise complaints were received by local authorities responding to the survey (predominantly environmental health departments) in the 2013-2014 financial period.
On average 1.7 abatement notices were served by each Council (for noise) for every 100 complaints received. 24 Councils were identified as having served no notices at all. There were an average of 3.85 officers working in each Borough each responsible for investigating an average of 385 complaints. Many of these officers were responsible for carrying out a number of other tasks in addition to noise investigations.
With the data we were able to rank local authority areas in terms of the number of complaints received and rate of enforcement action taken. Some regional data is available below. The results provide an initial snapshot of how local authority areas compare regionally.
Results shown here include local authority rankings according to the number of complaints received per 1000 population. Here we display a regional snapshot of part of the data. View the regional data by clicking on the map labels below where you will be led to a breakdown relating to the number of complaints received by each local authority (complaints received per thousand population):
As you would expect from the Noisy Neighbours UK survey, it was found that there was a strong relationship between the number of complaints received and population density (population per hectare). It followed that, generally speaking, the more complaints that were received by a Council, the more noise abatement notices were served. It also confirmed that abatement notices (Environmental Protection Act 1990, s.80 notices to abate noise amounting to a statutory nuisance) were more likely to be served in urban, rather than rural areas. Simply producing a national or regional ranking of complaints (as we have done above) does not, therefore, allow us to paint an accurate picture of noise related activity.
In order to be able to benchmark data more accurately we needed to take account of the urban/rural divide more effectively. Fortunately, in England, local authorities are classified in accordance with the extent to which they are urbanised.
The figures were compared to ONS and census information further in order to explore relationships with other data sets, including density of population and housing. As a result, local authorities will be able to judge their performance within their own classification alongside other measures in order to identify potential disparities.
Our data is presented in an interactive dashboard where local authorities can view their own data and rankings alongside overall national, regional and classification data. This data is now available here.
Whilst the data tool provides a much improved basis for comparison our study indicated that a number of obstacles remained. Consider the following points, for example:
Our survey results showed that the greater the rate of complaints received (number of complaints received per every 1000 population) the greater the number of officers are employed. However, the enforcement rate (number of notices served against complaints received) demonstrated a very weak relationship to staffing levels. The result indicates that the approach to enforcement may differ from area to area; perhaps not surprising, if one considers the nature and variables associated with nuisance (for example, ‘what might be a nuisance in Belgrave Square may not necessarily be in Bermondsey’). In addition, one might consider that where enforcement is exercised in a sector where local politics, resources and priorities differ from borough to borough, there will be difficulties comparing ‘like with like’.
We have found that there are a number of difficulties inherent to the process of benchmarking local authority noise activity and it may be that some of the variable factors associated with nuisance and noise enforcement mean that the process may never produce perfect results. This is true of most comparative data associated with such a varied activity. Whilst our data provides a reasonable indication of how local authorities stand we were also able to suggest ways to improve the quality of information received.
Replies received indicated that there were differences in the way some local authorities recorded and collated noise complaint data. This may provide a degree of bias to the research data and may have an effect on the rankings presented. It also highlighted a need for greater consistency in record keeping and data management. A data management (complaint records) protocol would improve the consistency of information gathered.
Replies to the Noisy Neighbours UK survey relate to local authority noise nuisance data and excludes anti-social behaviour statistics and complaint data collated by other agencies, such as Police and Housing Associations. Whilst the majority of noise investigations are carried out by local authorities, the extent of investigations into noise related ASB by other agencies must be significant. In order to appreciate the true scale of the noise problem and compare enforcement activity there may be a need for greater consistency and co-operation between enforcement agencies, including Police and Housing Associations.