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Statutory noise nuisance

The word ‘nuisance’ is often used by people to describe something which is inconvenient or annoying to them. Nuisance does however, have a legal meaning to describe situations which go beyond annoyance or an irritation, to describe serious matters which affect many people or regularly interfere with the use and enjoyment of property. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 describes these matters as statutory nuisances.

In determining if something constitutes a statutory nuisance many factors are considered including:

  • Location - Is the noise typical for the area? A cockerel crowing in the country is more accepted than a cockerel crowing in a quiet residential area.
  • Time of day - A statutory nuisance can exist at any time, however the effects of noise late at night when most people are more likely to be sleeping would be given greater weight than the same noise occurring during the day.
  • Frequency - How frequently are you affected by the noise? Noisy parties held weekly or monthly would be viewed differently to one held occasionally.
  • Duration - How long are you disturbed? A dog barking at the postman or occasional passer-by would be viewed differently to one barking most of the day.
  • Sensitivity and intensity - How loud is the noise and how intrusive is it? We all have different thresholds and tolerances. In determining nuisance the judgement would be how the noise would affect an ordinary individual, not someone who had a particular sensitivity to the noise complained of.
  • Number of people affected - A view will be taken on the number of people who are, or could be, affected by the noise. If only one person complains when the whole street could equally be affected, then there could be a challenge that the individual making the complaint could be unduly sensitive. See intensity above.

Regulatory Services Officers who are experts in noise (often qualified Environmental Health Officers or EHOs) are tasked with investigating noise complaints. They are able to use their professional knowledge and experience to assess if the noise being complained about amounts to a statutory nuisance.

The information you have been asked to gather, including diary sheets and audio recordings using the noise app or digital camera will support the investigation process and will be used as part of the Council investigation. It is then up to the Council officer to undertake further investigations to determine the existence of a statutory noise nuisance.

If the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance, the Council will serve a statutory abatement notice, requiring the noise is stopped. This maybe done immediately, or after seven days. The notice will require that steps are taken to reduce the noise nuisance within a specified time. There is no set time period for instance a factory will require more time to replace a fan, whereas a stereo can be turned down immediately.

In very few cases, the person responsible for the noise chooses not to comply with the statutory abatement notice. In such instances, the Council will take further legal proceedings and this may include a court case and seizing all noise making equipment such as televisions and stereos. If the court finds the perpetrator guilty this a criminal offence with a maximum fine up to £20,000.

However, if after monitoring the Council:

  • Determines the noise is not a statutory nuisance or unreasonable and persistent; or
  • despite best effects is unable to witness the noise over a reasonable period of time.

The case will be closed. This is not to say that the noise is not an issue, but that the Council cannot reasonably solve it. In these circumstances you can take your own action at the magistrates court.

Or try mediation.

Alternatively try if you may be suffering from a hearing problem additional help is available:

Request an official review of premises licence

If you are experiencing excessive noise from a pub or club you can also request a review of the premises licence. You should use this process for persistent ongoing issues.

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