Noise abatement zones

Two successful prosecutions taken by a local authority for a breach of registered noise levels in a noise abatement zone (NAZ) are believed to be the first of their kind since the power to establish NAZs was introduced by the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Within NAZs noise levels may be controlled without the need to prove a nuisance, and some 40 have now been set up.

The cases concerned premises in the City of Sheffield which were used as practice rooms by several rock groups. The building was within a NAZ set up on 1983, and noise levels for the musicians had been duly measured and entered in the Noise Level Register.

Following complaints in July 1984, environmental health officers found that noise levels during one practice session exceeded the registered levels by 3-4dB(A) (15-minute Leq), and prosecuted two musicians for exceeding the level without the consent of the local authority. The musicians pleaded guilty and were fined £20 each by magistrates last November.

The case did not end there, since the local authority then prosecuted the landlord. Owners or landlords of premises who are not directly responsible for noise levels being exceeded are not necessarily liable, since under section 65(4) of the 1974 Act only the person "responsible" for the noise may be guilty of the offence - a term later defined to mean the "person by whose act, default or sufferance the noise is attributable".

In this case, the landlord pleaded guilty and was fined £175 and £25 costs in December, and has since reportedly closed the rooms for practice by musicians. Presumably if there was a dispute as to responsibility, it would be a matter for the courts to judge on the facts of a particular case the extent to which an owner or landlord could be said to have "suffered" the noise to have been emitted.

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