Noise complaints to local councils – the numbers have surveyed local council noise complaintsA survey of noise complaints to local councils was recently undertaken by  the website is maintained by a few qualified and experienced environmental health professionals who volunteer in their spare time to help noise sufferers.   Micheal Eade looks at the findings. recently published some of the findings into a survey  undertaken in 2014  into local authority noise complaints. The study prompted an 88% response rate from local authorities and provides a comprehensive insight into the level of noise complaints being received by local authorities in Britain. It identifies those councils that receive the highest concentration of noise complaints.

Out of the 374 local authorities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland 340 (noise laws are different in Scotland) responded. The study found that on average there are 3.85 officers per borough working on noise complaints (mostly environmental health officers, many of whom carry out many other tasks alongside noise investigation). the survey found that each council investigates an average of 385 complaints and serves on average 1.7 notices. In total, 422,250 complaints were reported as being investigated over 2013 – 14.

Noise pollution is a serious issue for hundreds of thousands of people living in the UK every year. For the sufferer it can cause disruption, interference and irritation and in some cases lead to the development of stress and loss of sleep. So maintaining the comfort and well-being of people in their own homes is important.

However, rather than reel off a list of ‘the noisiest’ places, we wanted to develop a blueprint that would enable a more meaningful comparison to be made between administrative areas. The study confirmed that there is a clear relationship between population density and proportion of complaints received. A strong relationship was also found between population density and enforcement activity. This opened up the possibility of applying urban/rural classifications to the findings. In England a range of 6 classifications are widely used by government departments and were used alongside survey results. Rankings could then be drawn up between areas with similar characteristics. Results for the number of complaints and enforcement activity are therefore presented alongside data relating to population and housing density. This enables a more intelligent comparison of the figures to be made.

In their present form the results of our survey provide a useful indicator for comparing the level of noise complaints and level of enforcement activity. The data does have limitations though, for instance, it was clear that there are some differences in the way that local authorities collect and categorise noise complaints which means although we can make indicative comparisons some of the nubers are not directly comparable. There are also a number of partner agencies now involved in the investigation of anti-social behaviour which includes noise. This may also impact on the reliability of the figures in some instances as noise complaints may be spread across more than a single local authority service.

As a result of these findings, we  believe that improvements in reliability of the noise complaint and noise service figures could easily be made by introducing a standardised protocol for data collection and management. Even with standardised data collection in place, there are a number of variables (including local differences, political emphasis and allocation of resources) that will prevent the development of a perfect ‘like for like’ tool to be established. However, as long as we understand the limits of the information and are able to interpret (and apply) the results locally, we belive the method used will prove useful to local authorities wishing to benchmark services.

An application has been provided on the Noisenuisance website that enables users to explore the data.

Michael Eade BSc LLM CMCIEH
| Environmental Health

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