Statutory nuisance and noise
Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 lists the issues that can be dealt with as statutory nuisances:
- Premises or animals kept in a poor condition;
- Noise - such as barking dogs, crowing cockerels, music and stereo equipment etc.;
- Dust, Steam and Odour from non-domestic premises - including muck-spreading, construction sites etc.;
- Smoke - from bonfires or chimneys (but not from domestic chimneys in a Smoke Control Area; this is controlled under the Clean Air Act 1993);
- Light - pollution and glare from outdoor lighting;
- Insects - such as those associated with sewage works and farms;
- Accumulations and deposits of waste materials;
- Certain other prescribed matters.
These problems become statutory nuisances when they could be considered to unreasonably interfere with the use or enjoyment of another property; the problem must occur regularly and continue for a period of time that makes it unreasonable.
If the council is to act on a complainant's behalf, it is the investigating officer, not the complainant, who decides whether a particular complaint may be considered a statutory nuisance. The officer must decide if, on the basis of their experience and knowledge, a 'reasonable person' would find the problem unacceptable; unfortunately, officers cannot therefore usually deal with complaints from those who have a different or higher expectation of environmental quality.
What is a statutory noise nuisance
Noise is often described as 'unwanted sound'; unfortunately, what one person finds an enjoyable sound, another person may find disturbing or unpleasant. Common problem noises include:
- Stereos and televisions
- D.I.Y. and repairs
- Lawn mowing
- Vacuum cleaners and washing machines
- Animals such as cockerels and barking dogs
- Factory machinery and operations
- Roadworks and construction
Most noise is not subject to a maximum noise level (decibel level) or time limit. Each case must be judged on its merits taking into consideration factors such as:
- the time the noise happens (noise may be a nuisance at any time of day or night)
- the duration of the noise
- the frequency of the noise (both the tone/pitch and how often it occurs)
- the type of noise
- whether there is social acceptance or value; for example, bonfire night
The following kinds of noise are unlikely to be considered a statutory nuisance:
- A one-off party
- Neighbours arguing
- A lawnmower used during the daytime
- A baby crying or dogs barking occasionally
The council has no legal powers to control the following kinds of noise:
- Road traffic on the public highway
- People shouting/laughing or screaming on a public road or footpath
- Air traffic noise
How are complaints about statutory nuisances and noise investigated
If you feel that you are suffering unnecessary or unreasonable levels of noise or nuisance there are a number of things you can do. Firstly, it may be helpful to speak to the person responsible for the nuisance before taking any other action. People often do not know that they are causing a problem and this approach may help to solve the problem at a more friendly level.
The council's environment unit is responsible for looking into complaints of noise and nuisance and can provide advice and information on dealing with it. We aim to investigate all complaints in an efficient and thorough manner. In most cases, our investigation will involve the following steps:
Step 1 - Brief details of the complaint will be taken. In most cases, we need to take the complainant's name and address; anonymous complaints generally cannot be investigated, but all information is treated confidentially.
Step 2 - We will usually ask the complainant to keep a written record of the problem. This record helps the council decide if the issue is likely to be considered a statutory nuisance and may also be used as evidence in Court at a later date. If a complainant is unable to keep awritten record, the investigating officer will try to arrange to gather evidence in another way.
Step 3 - A council officer who is competent to assess noise and statutory nuisance complaints will investigate the complaint and try to resolve it informally if at all possible. The officer will contact the person being complained about and advise them that the council has received a complaint. They will be made aware of the legal powers available to the council if they are found to be causing a statutory nuisance. At this stage, the council will not release the identity of the complainant to the person being complained about, unless by agreement; however, the complainant will be required to attend court if the council decides to take legal action.
Step 4 - Complainants will be asked to contact the office again if there is no improvement within 14 days. The problem will then be assessed at the times shown in the record sheets and usually up to three visits can be made.
What happens if the problem IS considered a statutory nuisance
If the investigating officer believes the problem is a statutory nuisance, the council will consider taking legal action on your behalf. It is likely that the person being complained about will be served with an Abatement Notice under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the person being complained about does not agree with the notice and appeals or does not comply with the requirements of the Notice, the complainant and other witnesses will be required to give evidence in court.
What happens if the problem IS NOT considered a statutory nuisance
Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives complainants the power to take independent action through the local Magistrates' Court to deal with noise and nuisances where:
the council considers that the problem is not a statutory nuisance;
the council cannot obtain enough evidence to serve an Abatement Notice or to prosecute; or
the complainant does not wish to involve the council in resolving the complaint.