homeWednesday 28th July 2021

Councils need to record noise

Katie Coyne19/07/2018 - 13:38

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Noise is subjective but science can help
Noise is subjective but science can help

A resident has appealed against a noise abatement notice issued by Westminster Council and won in a case estimated to have cost the council £20,000.

The notice was served against a domestic property for an alleged nuisance of playing loud music.

A judge at Westminster magistrates’ court upheld the appeal on a number of grounds including insufficient evidence.

The case has raised the question as to whether recording equipment should now be used routinely across even domestic cases.

Acoustic Consultant and md of Big Sky Acoustics, Richard Vivian, was called to provide expert witness for the appellant in this case. He argued that local authorities ought to be taking advantage of technological advances and use recording equipment.

He said this could help them ’present noise evidence that could prove or disprove an allegation, saving them thousands of pounds of public money in court proceedings.’

Vivian said the court costs involved in challenging the notice were in the region of £10k and as the judge awarded the appellant her costs, this too would have been in the region of £10k.

The judge in the case was critical that there was no corroborative evidence, that the notice was served after just one 15-minute visit and that holding occasional parties was a reasonable domestic use.

The judge also found the notice was insufficiently detailed as to how to comply and that it interfered with her right to family and private life.

The notice meant the only way she could comply was to never play music in her home, which itself the judge found was unreasonable.

It is common practice for EHOs to listen to the noise within a domestic property to determine whether it is reasonable.

Vivian said EHOs would still be required to provide context around noise nuisance and help determine reasonableness.

He noted that the Environmental Protection Act 1990  (EPA 1990) and the Act does not actually stipulate that noise recordings are required.

But he added: ‘Common sense would dictate if you have the technology to help prove your case then why not use it?

‘That's somewhat at odds with our scientific world: motorists are not fined for looking like they might be too tipsy or going too fast. Scientific measures are put in place to quantify speed and intoxication.

‘Similarly, Environmental Health Officers would not expect to subjectively assess the temperature of food being stored, they would use a thermometer.’

Westminster Council refused to comment.

Vivian said that Hull, Wakefield, Leeds, Reading, Wiltshire, Newham use the sound level meters to measure and record noise complaints.

Noise monitoring experts Cirrus Research said it supplies 90 local authorities – around a third - nationally with sound monitoring equipment.

An appeal against a noise abatement notice lost by Southampton City Council and reported in the June issue of EHN magazine also suggested local authorities may need to take a more scientific approach.

This went to the High Court and it was suggested that the council’s evidence would have been more credible had a scientific assessment taken place involving noise measurement recordings. 


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