Noise Pollution

Noise has been defined as unwanted sound. It is a widespread source of irritation and stress, and can pose a threat to hearing, when at sufficient volume.

Sound is essential in our daily lives; however, noise is not and there is legislation to control excessive noise produced by a variety of activities, i.e. industry, transport and construction sites. 

It must be emphasised that not all noise nuisances can be dealt with by the Local Authority, therefore advice on how private individuals may take action to remedy a situation is also included.

N.B. Noise within the workplace is covered by separate legislation, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. 

Which areas of noise nuisance we can help with

General noise nuisance is covered by Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and enables local authorities to deal with noise from fixed premises (including land) and from vehicles and equipment in the street (e.g. car alarms) provided the noise is sufficient to be considered a statutory nuisance.

Nuisance from loud speakers and chimes in the street and noise from construction sites is dealt with under Part III of the Control of Pollution Act 1974.

The council has no powers to deal with noise from persons in the street.

Environmental Protection Act 1990

  • Section 79 - defines noise as constituting a statutory nuisance for purposes of the Act and imposes a duty on the Local Authority to inspect their area in order to detect any statutory nuisance (not only noise)
  •  Section 80 - imposes a duty on a local authority where it is satisfied of the existence or likely recurrence of a nuisance to serve a notice and to take court proceedings if necessary to remedy the situation.
  •  Section 82 - allows the Magistrates Court to act upon a complaint made by any person who is aggrieved by the existence of a noise nuisance.

Control of Pollution Act 1974

  • Sections 60 & 61 - provide the local authority with powers to control noise from construction sites.
  • Section 62 - limits the times during which loudspeakers may be sounded in the street (i.e. ice cream van chimes)
  • Section 63 - provides the Local Authority with the means to designate all or part of its area as a noise abatement zone.

 There are rights of appeal against any action under these sections.

The Complaints Procedure

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows either the Local Authority or an individual to take a case before the Magistrates Court. Local authorities cannot act on every occasion due to the problem of being able to establish a nuisance.

Generally speaking because of the difficulties in establishing nuisance the Local Authority is frequently not able to take formal action when the noise is of a more private than public nature, i.e. domestic noise, particularly when intermittent, one-off private parties, barking dogs and revving of motor vehicles. With noisy neighbour complaints, it is best to approach them yourself first and discuss the problem informally; the neighbour may be unaware of any problem.

The Portsmouth Mediation Service operates a free, confidential and impartial service for tenants of Portsmouth City Council, Portsmouth Housing Association and Hermitage Housing Association who live in the Borough of Havant. It is run by local volunteers that come from many different backgrounds.

They are specially trained in neighbour disputes and understand that you may be angry, upset, worried or frightened. The mediators will not take sides, judge or blame and they will not tell you what to do. They will provide an opportunity for you to talk and be listened to and help find the best way to resolve neighbour problems. The service helps with different types of disputes for example, noise, children, rubbish, animals, property, damage, boundaries and fences, harassment, parking and more.

To find out more information including how the service works and how to contact the service please visit the Portsmouth Mediation website.

If an initial approach to the person causing the nuisance fails you may:-

  • Complain to the Local Authority

Contact the Environmental Health Environment Team. If it is agreed that the noise constitutes, or may constitute, a nuisance the Service will contact the offender, informally at first, before taking action under the Acts.

 The Environmental Health Officer has to have regard to all aspects of the alleged nuisance before taking further action. There are a number of varying factors such as the reaction of individuals to noise, the time of day or night, the volume of noise, its nature, duration and how often if occurs, all of these factors have to be taken into account when assessing nuisance.

 The Local Authority must be satisfied that a noise amounting to a nuisance exists before an abatement notice is served or action taken in the Magistrates Court. The word of the complainant is not sufficient for the Local Authority to prove nuisance; the investigating officer must be able to witness the nuisance, possibly on several separate occasions. It is recommended that a written record of dates, times and duration of the noise disturbance is kept with a description as to the type of noise and how it interferes with the use or enjoyment of your home e.g. unable to get to sleep, interference with speech, etc. These notes must only be made by those people witnessing the noise.

 If other persons (neighbours) are prepared to substantiate your complaint they should be requested to complain to the Environmental Health Service separately. The occasional disturbance by noise may be annoying but not in law constitute a nuisance.

Should a complaint to the Local Authority result in formal action, the complainants may be required to give evidence in court.

  • Complain direct to the Magistrates

If you are the occupier of premises affected by noise nuisance you can complain under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 direct to a Magistrates Court. This course of action is recommended when the Local Authority is not able to substantiate a nuisance.

The person responsible for the noise must first be approached and it is advisable to write or speak to the person concerned informing them that you are of the opinion that they are creating a noise amounting to a nuisance. If there is no improvement in the situation, a detailed log of events must be kept by those witnessing the noise in order to help prove a nuisance. Support may be gained by neighbours prepared to act as witnesses to the noise.

The next step is to contact the Clerk to the Justices and inform him that you wish to bring proceedings under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Before proceedings are instituted you must give the person responsible for the noise not less than 3 days notice in writing of your intention to bring proceedings, together with a description of the matter complained of.

Note: If, at any time you feel that the circumstances of the case have changed and that the Local Authority should take action, you should approach the Environmental Health Department and discuss the matter again.

Legal Advice Regarding Private Action

Although it is not essential, it is advisable to take legal advice as to your prospects of success even if you do not intend or cannot afford to ask a Solicitor to act for you in Court. Such advice can be obtained:

 (a) from the Citizens Advice Bureau,

 (b) at a fixed fee interview with a Solicitor regardless of income,

 (c) with the assistance of Legal Aid, depending upon income qualifications, for help with the preparation of a case but not for conducting the case itself.

 If you take your own case there are things you should know about Court procedure. This information will be provided by the Justices' Clerk's Office.

Final Remarks

There are two sides to every story. Environmental Health Officers investigate hundreds of complaints of domestic noise and in many cases they find that the person being complained about has just as plausible a story as the complainant. Environmental Health Officers do not act for individuals professionally and unless the council is itself bringing a case they cannot take sides in any dispute. If called upon to give evidence they will do so as they find the facts, which may be different to your own views.

Very often it is found that relationships between neighbours are strained and that the noise complaint is just part of a greater and sometimes complicated dispute. In these circumstances the Environmental Health Officer will often recommend the complainant to take his own case. The Magistrates' Court then has to decide the rights and wrongs of the situation.

Remember that the person you complain about may be able to produce counter-arguments in  defence which are just as real to them as your grievances are to you. One thing you must do is be quite certain of the grounds of your complaint and that you are not overreacting to a situation which many people would find acceptable.