It is a fact of life that we all make noise. Excessive noise can make life a misery and reduce the quality of life, for example through lack of sleep or inability to concentrate.
Noisy neighbours and noise from industry or construction sites are just some of the problems that can be experienced.
Everyone perceives noise nuisance differently. It's not just about how loud something is, but what is acceptable to the average person. Noise is generally considered to be unwanted sound, but what one person considers unwanted may not seem unreasonable to someone else.
Before taking action we have to decide what is reasonable and what is not.
If something is unreasonable to the average person, a court might decide it is a statutory nuisance. Noise nuisance is covered by Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA). This law empowers local authorities to deal with noise from fixed premises (including land) if they consider that the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance. Proceedings may be taken against noise from factories, shops, pubs, dwellings, intruder alarms and stationary vehicles.
Taking your own action
You can take independent action by complaining direct to the Magistrate 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 (such as after 2 weeks) you will complain to the Magistrate Court. Keep a copy of all correspondence.
You must give at least 3 days notice of your intention to complain to the Magistrate 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).
If the noise-maker ignores either a verbal or written request by you to stop the noise, contact the Justices' Clerk's Office at your local Magistrate 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 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 1 person needs to be affected for there to be a nuisance, in practice the evidence of other witnesses will strengthen your complaint.
A date will be set for the hearing and the person about whom you are complaining will be summoned to Court. You will be required to explain your problem and produce evidence of the disturbance. You will have to give your own evidence and cross-examine your supporting witnesses to draw out their evidence. The neighbour will be able to cross-examine you and your witnesses and may produce their own evidence.
The law relating to business premises is slightly different: they can defend themselves by proving that they are using the "best practicable means" to prevent the noise.
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.
Noise and planning
Where new developments are likely to be noisy planning conditions can be imposed to control potential noise. Some developments can even be refused on noise grounds.
New sensitive developments such as housing or schools may be required to have improved noise insulation if they are planned to be built near to existing noisy sites.
Find out more about planning requirements and conditions in the planning section of this website.