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Neighbourhood Noise

Volume 268: debated on Tuesday 12 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the Government's response to the consultation on the review of the effectiveness of neighbour noise controls. [5762]

The review of the effectiveness of neighbour noise controls made recommendations relating to the management of local authority noise services; liaison between local authorities and the police; powers of confiscation; and the introduction of a night-time noise offence.On 27 March this year, we consulted on these recommendations and we received 354 responses. A list of the responses has been placed in the Library of the House: copies of individual responses may be obtained through the Department of the Environment's library.We have carefully considered the recommendations made by the working party, together with the responses to the consultation exercise and the results of initial trails of the proposed night-time noise offence. The recommendations represent a package of proposals which have a great deal of support and we propose to accept them in full. We believe that they will bring substantial improvements in the four areas identified in the review.First, as the working party recognised, there is a wide variation in the type of noise complaint service provided by individual authorities. Some authorities provide excellent and very effective services and, of course, the level of service is a matter to be decided locally in terms of what is appropriate for the area taking account of local circumstances and resources. However, many people are concerned by the disparity between levels of service provided by neighbouring authorities with similar levels of problem and uncertainty as to the responsiveness and effectiveness of the service being offered. We therefore propose to encourage local authorities, largely through the dissemination of best practice and professional guidance, to adopt a graduated service standard which will clearly identify the type of noise service which is being offered.The second area studied by the working party was the role of the police in dealing with noise complaints. There are many examples of excellent liaison locally between environmental health officers and the police. We want to encourage these informal arrangements by supporting the representative bodies in drawing up a code of practice on effective liaison between the agencies.The police will, of course, continue to have responsibility to support local authority staff where there is a threat to public order, though the judgment about the support required remains an operational matter for the police.There is overwhelming support for clarification of the current powers under which some authorities temporarily confiscate noise-making equipment. Many respondents to the consultation paper take the view that confiscation has a significant deterrent effect.The fourth area is the creation of a new offence to deal with excessive noise from domestic premises during the night-time period. Noise makers would be given a warning by a local authority officer to reduce the noise below a measured standard, based on the World Health Organisation guidelines of 35dB(A) as necessary for the restorative process of sleep. Failure to comply with this warning would be a criminal offence. There would be a fixed penalty set initially at £40; alternatively the offender could be prosecuted by the local authority. This new offence would supplement the existing statutory nuisance regime and local authorities would have a choice as to whether to adopt it for their area.The third and fourth elements of the package will require new legislative powers and we will look for an early opportunity to introduce these. We will also wish to consult further with local authorities on the detailed definition and operation of the new powers and what supporting guidance on their use may be appropriate.We believe that this package of measures represents a major step forward in tackling the problems of noise nuisance from domestic premises.