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Noise is generally regarded as unwanted sound - that is too loud, too intrusive or too persistent. The types of noise, which people frequently complain about, can be divided into three distinct types - Domestic Noise, Commercial Noise and Noise in Streets.
If noise is adversely affecting your life then there are various steps that you can take. The Council can investigate the complaint that may result in an abatement notice being served. There are some additional noise controls that can help to stop or reduce noise from particular sources e.g loudspeakers in the street, construction sites and night-time noise. In addition, members of the public can participate at the planning stage to reduce noise at source. We have compiled a contact list for further information and advice about noise.
Domestic Noise: this includes loud music, barking dogs, burglar alarms and late-night parties.
Commercial Noise: this includes factory noise, fan noise, chiller noise, delivery noise, construction site noise and music from pubs and clubs.
Noise in Streets: this includes car alarms, ice cream chimes, machinery operating in the road and the use of loudspeakers - but excludes traffic.
The Council has powers to deal with all of the above noise complaints. These are laid down in various Acts of Parliament under sections 80 and 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended by the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993) and The Control of Pollution Act 1974, in addition to several Codes of Practice.
If you are concerned about the noise coming from a neighbour's home, a local business or manufacturer, or noise from stationery vehicles or equipment in the street, often the best way to deal with the problem is to go to the source
- Consider talking to the person or company responsible for the noise and point out the problem. You may find they are unaware that they are disturbing you. Remember, we may all be guilty of making noise at some time without realising its effects
- If the direct approach does not succeed, you may want to consider mediation. An independent third party will listen to the views of both parties and can help them to reach an agreement or compromise. You can obtain details about this from Mediation UK on Tel: 0117 9046661
- When informal action is not possible or fails, you can attempt to resolve the problem by seeking a more formal route. This usually involves making a complaint to the Council.
The Council is obliged to take reasonable steps to investigate complaints made to it.
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You can make a complaint using the online location reporting form. You will need to let us know the details of the complaint including the address where the noise is coming from.
If you are being disturbed by noise we would advise you in the first instance to approach your neighbour and explain politely that you are being troubled by noise. You may find this difficult, but often people are unaware that they are causing a problem. Most will be glad to do what they can to reduce noise, and a personal approach can be better for neighbour relationships. However, approach the matter carefully if you think your neighbour might react angrily to a complaint. In cases where you might feel threatened, or where previous personal approaches have not worked, contact the Council.
If the problem continues after you have spoken to your neighbour, start a diary recording dates, times and cause of the noise, and the effects it has on you. Write to your neighbour explaining the problem. Ask them to stop the noise nuisance, referring to any conversations you may have had and what, if anything, they agreed to do about it. Keep a record of any conversations you have or letters you write. If your neighbours are tenants, discuss your problem with the landlord (if they are private tenants, you may need to find out who the landlord is). Most Conditions of Tenancy require that tenants do not cause nuisance to neighbours; a local authority or housing association should take action if a nuisance is being caused. This information will be vital if you wish to take your own action at a later date.
If you cannot deal with the noise problem personally and you involve the Council we will contact you to arrange for an officer to visit to explain the noise investigation process. We will aim to visit you within 5 working days of receiving your complaint. During that visit, the officer will provide you with a noise diary, on which you should record dates and times of when you are affected by noise and the impact that noise has on you. We try to resolve your complaint informally at first by writing to the person making the noise and giving them advice. Additional Noise Nuisance Diary sheets can be found on this link should you need them.
If the problem persists, and there is evidence to suggest a statutory nuisance may be occurring, our officers will attempt to witness the noise. They may provide you with equipment that will enable you to record the nuisance as it happens, or arrange visits at times when noise is likely to be occurring. We would also urge you to contact our officers if the noise is occurring during office hours and we will attempt to visit to witness the nuisance. Once any evidence of nuisance has been obtained, the officer will consider a number of factors to determine if a statutory nuisance is occurring. These factors include the time of day; the nature of the area; the volume, duration and frequency of the noise and the reasonableness of the activity that is causing the noise. However in some cases our officers may be sympathetic to the effect the noise is having on you, but unable to say it would represent a statutory nuisance to the "average" person.
Formal action is only possible where our officers witness noise that they consider to be a statutory nuisance. To be a statutory nuisance the noise must be causing serious disruption to your everyday activities such as watching television or sleeping. We must also prove that the noise is a regular occurrence, for this reason one off events are unlikely to be a statutory nuisance.
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Like you, the Council may try to resolve the problem informally. If this fails and they are satisfied that the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance, they will serve an abatement notice under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The action required would depend on whether the noise arises from a domestic or commercial source. If the source is domestic it may require the noise to be stopped altogether; if the source is commercial, works may be required to eliminate or reduce the noise or the noise may be limited to certain times of the day. Commercial operations have special dispensation that allows them to cause some noise as part of their business, provided they are doing the best they can to minimise it.
An abatement notice must be served on the person responsible for the noise or, in certain circumstances, the owner or occupier of the premises, or the offending vehicle or machinery, or person responsible for the offending vehicle or machinery.
A person on whom an abatement notice has been served has the right of appeal to a Magistrates Court within 21 days of it being served.
If a person on whom an abatement notice has been served fails to comply with the requirements of that notice, he will have committed an offence and will be liable to a fine. For offences relating to domestic premises and private vehicles, the Magistrate's Court may impose a maximum fine of £5,000, with a further fine of up to £500 for each day the offence continues after conviction. When the nuisance arises on industrial, trade or business premises, the maximum fine is £20,000.
The Council has the power to take action to abate nuisances themselves. In order to do this they can enter premises to enable them to abate the nuisance. Where entry is likely to be refused, they can apply to the Court for a Warrant to permit entry to the premises, by force, if necessary.
The most common time for them to use this power is to stop misfiring burglar alarms, because the owner is away from the premises and is not expected back for some time, or to confiscate Hi-Fi systems from persistent offenders. They can also gain access to or remove vehicles, machinery or equipment which are causing a statutory nuisance by creating too much noise.
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The Council has powers under section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to deal with loudspeakers in the street. Their use in the street for advertising entertainments, trades or businesses, is banned and for other uses is restricted to the hours between 8am and 9pm. Under this section the use of Ice Cream Chimes is restricted to between 12:00 and 19:00 hours. The use of the chimes between these hours must comply with an approved code of practice that specifies noise levels and use of the chimes. The Council can consent to the operation of loudspeakers in the street for non-advertising purposes outside the normal 8am to 9pm time-band in certain circumstances, but must consider the effect on the surrounding area before doing so. A number of organisations are exempt from the general rules governing the use of loudspeakers in the street, including the police, ambulance and fire brigades.
Those found guilty of using a loudspeaker illegally in the street are liable to a maximum fine of £5,000 for the first or subsequent offence. The Council is not required to serve an abatement notice and offenders are automatically subject to prosecution.
Noise from construction sites
Construction sites are a very common source of noise pollution. They are often in areas which were quiet beforehand and therefore the noise generated from their activities is very noticeable. Construction noise is an anticipated part of a development and therefore a restriction on working hours is often prescribed as part of the planning permission.
The generally accepted times for noise related activities on construction sites are:
- 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday
- 8am to 1pm Saturday
- No working on Sundays or Bank Holidays.
This does not mean that work cannot take place on construction sites outside of these hours, only that it must not cause noise - so painting or other quiet activities could happen if the planning permission allows. Noise related work outside these hours would only be permitted if the operator could justify this work e.g. necessary for health and safety reasons. In addition, we would seek to ensure that construction work is conducted using what is termed 'best practical means'. This would include regular maintenance of equipment so that plant does not rattle and squeak, using sound reduced plant, e.g using electric powered tools in place of diesel powered etc. We also monitor construction activities to minimise pollution dust and other nuisances.
Noise at Work
There are regulations that limit an employee's exposure to noise while at work. Exposure to excessive amounts of noise can lead to hearing damage. If you suffer from loud noise at work you should seek advice from your employer in the first instance. Alternatively you can contact the authority responsible for enforcing health and safety at your workplace. Please contact the Council's Health Improvement team for further advice.
Noise from road vehicles
Certain types of noise may constitute an offence under Road Traffic law e.g the sounding of a motor horn at certain times on restricted roads. If you are subject to increased traffic noise due to new roads or altered traffic schemes you may be entitled to compensation or assistance toward sound insulation. You should contact Northamptonshire County Council (Tel: 0300 126 1000) or the Highways Agency (Tel: 020 7921 4411) for further advice.
General enquiries about noise from individual vehicles (rather than traffic) should be directed to:
The Department of Environment,
Transport and the Regions,
Transport Environment and Taxation Division,
2/3 Great Minster House,
76 Marsham Street,
London SW1P 4DR
Tel: 020 7944 2063
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If you have concerns about unreasonable noise that may arise from new developments contact the Council to advise them before any application is determined. Please note the Council should take the potential for noise nuisance into consideration when assessing planning applications.
Some types of noise occur at a level which individuals may consider to be a nuisance, but for a number of reasons our officers may not believe it to be serious enough to amount to a statutory nuisance. If it is not possible for a local authority officer to witness the noise, they may not feel able to take action on behalf of someone who has made a complaint. If an officer cannot witness nuisance or does not believe statutory nuisance is occurring, you can take independent action by complaining direct to the Magistrates' Court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This is quite simple and need not cost much; you do not need to employ a solicitor, but it is advisable to obtain some legal advice.
Before approaching the Court it is a good idea to write to the noise-maker saying that unless the noise is abated by a certain date (e.g. two weeks) you will complain to the Magistrates' Court. Keep a copy of all correspondence. If the noise-maker ignores either a verbal or written request by you to abate the noise, contact the Justices' Clerk's Office at your local Magistrates' Court explaining that you wish to make a complaint under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The Clerk of the Court should be able to advise you further. You must give at least three days' notice of your intention to complain to the Magistrates' Court to the person considered responsible for the noise. The notice should provide details of the complaint and may be delivered by hand or by post. A solicitor can do this for you (a solicitor's letter will show you are serious). You need to prove to the Magistrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that the noise you are complaining about amounts to a nuisance. The diary you keep will be important evidence. Although the law says that only one person needs to be affected for there to be a nuisance, in practice the evidence of other witnesses will strengthen your complaint.
If you prove your case the Court will make an order requiring the nuisance to be abated, and/or prohibit recurrence of the nuisance. It also has the power at the time the nuisance order is made to impose a fine on the defendant (currently up to £5,000). If this order is ignored further Court action will need to be taken; you must therefore continue to keep records of noise nuisance in case it is necessary to return to Court. If you fail to prove your case you may have to pay some of the defendant's expenses in coming to Court. Under the London Local Authorities Act 2004, local authority officers can issue fixed penalty notices to London residents who breach noise abatement notices.
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Anti-social behaviour is legally described as 'acting in a manner which caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself'. This type of behaviour can result in noise complaints and is often termed 'behavioural noise nuisance'.
Noise complaints that are most likely to fall into this category include deliberate banging of doors or walls, children or parents shouting or screaming, or people slamming doors. It can even extend to verbal harassment.
This type of noise can be dealt with as either a 'normal' noise nuisance complaint or more serious anti-social behaviour. The council's Environmental Health Department can advise you as how best to deal with this issue.
Dealing with anti-social behaviour can be a complex and difficult matter to deal with, so seeking specialist advice at an earlier stage can be helpful.
The government has set up an information hotline to answer questions concerning anti-social behaviour. You should call the 'Together' helpline on 0845 605 2222.
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Noise from air traffic
General enquiries about policy on noise from aircraft, should be directed to:
The Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions,
Aviation Environment Division,
2/24 Great Minster House,
76 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DR.
Tel: 020 7944 5494
Noise from military aircraft
Complaints about noise from military aircraft should be made to any RAF station, RAF Regional Community Relations Office or military flying unit when known.
Depreciation in property value: compensation
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) issues a series of free booklets that explain the circumstances in which compensation may be payable when the value of a property depreciates by more than £50 as a result of noise (and other physical factors) arising from the construction, or use of certain public works.
DETR FREE LITERATURE,
PO Box No 236,
Wetherby, LS23 7NB
Tel: 0870 1226236
Road construction noise and traffic noise insulation
Further information on the insulation of dwellings against noise from the construction or use of new or altered roads is available from:
The Highways Agency,
Traffic Safety and Environment Division,
St Christopher's House,
London, SE1 0TE
Tel: 020 7921 4411
Quieter Homes Website
Advice on reducing noise in the home
Noise Abatement Society
Advice and support for noise sufferers
Noise Helpline: 01273 823 850
Environmental Law Foundation
Legal support and advice to individuals and communities
Tel: 020 7404 1030
United Kingdom Noise Association (AKNA)
13 Stockwell Road
London SW9 9AU
Tel: 020 7737 6641
Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood Street
London N1 7JQ
Tel: 020 7490 0881
PO Box 327,
Kent ME5 8AW
Tel: 01634 819975
British Tinnitus Association
4th Floor, White Building
Sheffield S1 2AZ
Tel: 0114 279 6600
Fax: 0114 279 6222
Tel: 01273 878782
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