Proposed new ASBO laws concern noise professionals

The Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013 – 14 sets out amended powers for dealing with anti social behaviour, including noise, intending to provide simpler, more effective powers and acting as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour.  The suitability and clarity of some of these powers has been questioned by environmental health professionals responsible for enforcing noise regulation throughout its drafting.  Having reached it s final readings in the House of Lords last week the bill remains controversial – with the Lords voting to amend some wording last week.

Mainstream media also expressed concern about the extent of powers in the bill last week. The Guardians’ environmental columnist George Monbiot  condemned it as a license to restrict freedom of speech and expression, and the Daily Mail also focused on the wording of the bill as a threat to fundamental freedoms – to, for example, bell ringers, nudists and  carol singers.

Throughout the drafting of the bill environmental health professionals have expressed concern about measures that extend powers to deal with noise to police and social landlords, alongside qualified council noise officers. They believe unqualified staff will not have the experience or knowledge to properly deal with cases in the context of existing statutory nuisance law.

Government say the planned powers make sense as 40% of English and 60% of welsh local authorities don’t have night time noise services, and a third of complaints to social landlords are about noise.  Local authorities face ongoing budget cuts and are having to make decisions about service prioritisation.

Interviewed in December Noise Bulletin http://www.empublishing.co.uk/noise/ a number of noise professionals  set out these concerns – which included  the view that noise offenders may find themselves subject to action from more than one authority.  In particular, with the proposed Community Protection Notice – which can be issued by social landlords, police, police community support officers or council officers to deal with a problem affecting the community. A breach of this would be a criminal offence. Here it is proposed that where behaviour constitutes a statutory nuisance it should be dealt with under the existing section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Noise professionals are concerned as to how this will work in practice, and EPUK and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health have  been expressing those concerns to government throughout the drafting of the Bill. Noise campaigners at the UK Noise Association believe the new powers should be given a chance – in particular in the context of local authority cuts.

Last week the House of Lords rejected some measures in the bill, voting in support of an amendment tabled by Lord Dear, a former West Midlands Chief constable. They voted to replace the words ‘nuisance and annoyance’ in the Bill with ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ – saying that the initial wording was too broad and risked undermining freedom of speech and freedom of expression – or freedom to indulge in a range of hobbies, as the Daily Mail put it.

The bill is back in the Lords tomorrow – you can follow progress here http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/antisocialbehaviourcrimeandpolicingbill.html

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