Last edited 09 Sep 2016

Noise nuisance

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Noise nuisance is excessive noise or disturbance that may have a negative effect on health or the quality of life.

The government defines three levels of noise:

  • No observed effect level – the level of noise exposure where there is no effect on health or the quality of life.
  • Lowest observed effect level – adverse effects on health and the quality of life can be detected at this level.
  • Significant observed adverse effect level – the level of noise exposure where there can be significant effects on health and quality of life.

The degree of disturbance caused by noise depends on properties such as:

  • Volume.
  • Duration.
  • Repetition.
  • Frequency. High and low pitches tend to be more disturbing than middle frequencies.
  • ‘Normal’ background noise levels.
  • Information content. For example speech is more likely to be disturbing than noise containing less information.
  • The time of day. People tend to be more sensitive to noise at night, when they may be trying to sleep and there is likely to be less background noise.
  • The general sensitivity of individuals.

The Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) is intended to promote good health and a good quality of life through the effective management of noise. It applies to all types of noise other than noise in the workplace. The NPSE define noise pollution as:

  • Environmental noise – which includes noise from transportation sources.
  • Neighbour noise – which includes noise from inside and outside buildings.
  • Neighbourhood noise – which includes noise arising from industrial and entertainment premises, trade and businesses, construction sites and noise in the street.

Noise pollution can potentially contribute to:

  • Hearing impairment.
  • Startle and defence reactions.
  • Ear pain or discomfort.
  • Speech interference.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Cardiovascular effects.
  • Annoyance, anger and frustration.

These effects in turn can lead to:

  • Tension or anxiety.
  • Decreased performance.
  • Reduced productivity.
  • Eardrum damage or hearing difficulties.
  • Increased blood pressure or stress levels.
  • Psychological damage.

Wider effects can include:

  • Economic impacts such as decreasing property value and loss of productivity.
  • Social impacts such as sickness or absenteeism.
  • Vibrations induced by sound waves can cause structural damage to buildings.

Noise disturbance has become a more common problem as a result of industrialisation, urbanisation and the rapid increase in the number of household appliances, devices, equipment and alarms. However, greater awareness in planning and improved standards of construction can help mitigate potential noise problems.

The noise profile of an area should be considered when designing and constructing buildings. The local topography, the location of buildings, their orientation and construction should be planned strategically to minimise the potential impact of noise disturbance, either on the development, between different parts of the development or caused by the development.

Construction noise assessments may be carried out, and real-time noise may be monitored on site. Construction noise can be reduced by restricting hours of working and changing construction methodologies. It can be beneficial to carry out noise surveys before development commences so that a baseline condition is established, and complaints procedures should be established. BS5228 is the ‘code of practice for noise and vibration control on construction and open sites’.

Planning permissions may include conditions intended to reduce noise nuisance, and the building regulations part E sets minimum standards for design and construction in relation to the resistance to the passage of sound. In addition, projects that require environmental impact assessments may require specific noise studies.

Noise nuisance can be reported to local authorities who have a responsibility to tackle unreasonable noise disturbance. Typically, complaints relate to:

  • Loud music, TV or radio.
  • Parties or other entertainment.
  • Pubs, clubs and entertainment venues.
  • Building and DIY work at unreasonable times of the day.
  • Constant dog barking.
  • Car and burglar alarms.

Local authorities can serve a legal notice on the person responsible for the noise. If the noise problem persists they may be given a fixed penalty notice or taken to court and fined up to £5000. They can also apply for a Warrant of Entry which allows officers to seize noise-making equipment.

Individuals can take independent action by complaining directly to the Magistrates' Court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

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