Antisocial noise at record level as neighbours count cost to health
Source: The Times
Complaints about antisocial noise have reached record levels across the country, with parts of suburban England registering average increases of 22 per cent in the past year, a survey by The Times has found. The figures, the first since 24-hour licensing was introduced in November 2005, show the total number of complaints about noise have jumped from 158,199 in 2005-06 to 172,415 in the past 12 months, an increase of 11 per cent.
The survey of about 100 councils reveals that suburban areas in Greater London and the Home Counties have experienced particularly steep increases. Officials said the higher noise levels were due partly to changing lifestyles, with louder music, larger TVs and more outdoor picnics, concerts and parties. Other noises that prompted complaints included laminate floors, car alarms, construction work, rowdy drinkers and motorbikes.
Many councils round the M25 corridor reported increased levels of more than 30 per cent, with some councils elsewhere, such as South Bedford-shire, Sunderland and South Tyne-side, saying that complaints had doubled. Although councils did not give a detailed breakdown, some officials conceded that part of the rise was due to 24-hour licensing, with several serving abatement orders on pubs where noise levels attracted a lot of complaints.
Experts argued that despite a fivefold increase in noise complaints over the past 20 years, government departments were largely overlooking the problem. Brian Lamb, acting director of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, said: "Noise pollution is one of the overlooked issue of our times. Government needs to focus more seriously on this issue as people's health and hearing are at risk."
Research carried out by the MORI Institute and the National Society for Clean Air found that between 2005 and last year, one in five people heard noise from their neighbours and almost half of those felt annoyed by it.
Councils have had the power to issue noise abatement orders after frequent complaints which can lead to fines of up to £20,000 if the order is ignored, but only 8,340 were issued in 2004-05. Local authorities are even more reluctant to issue on-the-spot fixed penalty notices of between £75 and £500 for noise, with only 33 issued last year.
Most councils reporting increases in complaints said this was because of better reporting methods, including hotlines, set up by more than 170 councils. But many were established more than two years ago and cannot totally explain the surge in noise in the past year.
London and the metropolitan councils reported the highest levels of increases while districts, mainly in rural areas, reported lower rises. The average rise in London boroughs was 12 per cent, the metropolitan boroughs 21 per cent, districts 5 per cent and unitaries 11 per cent. Sutton, in Surrey, and Ealing and Hillingdon in West London have all reported increases of more than 25 per cent. Eastbourne in Sussex experienced an increase of more than 60 per cent.
Many authorities said record temperatures, which reached the high 90s in July last year, also contributed to high figures as people threw open doors and windows. Westminster Council, which has the highest number of complaints in England, 21,114 last year, said in July 2006 the town hall had received more than 2,230 complaints, nearly twice as many as July of the previous year.
A spokesperson for Sutton Borough Council suggested that changing suburban lifestyles could be to blame for the increases. "The vast majority of the complaints concern neighbourhood noise, reflecting changing lifestyles, with loud music frequently played and greater use of gardens for parties. Larger TVs and surround-sound systems also contribute to the greater volume of noise that can disturb neighbours," she said.
Hackney Council, where noise levels reduced by 11 per cent, said 60 per cent of problems its mediation service dealt with were noise-related issues between neighbours. The top five problems are: loud music and TVs, wooden floors, slamming doors, loud talking or shouting and noise from children playing.