Proposals to extend law on noise, statutory nuisance

Proposals to strengthen the law on noise and statutory nuisances were announced in a consultation paper issued by the Department of the Environment (DoE) on 9 June.1 A Private Member's Bill to give effect to the proposals was introduced in the House of Commons a day later.

The proposals are mostly intended to implement recommendations made by an official working party on noise pollution in October 1990 (ENDS Report 189, pp 31-2). But the DoE has also mooted limited amendments of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which would ease control of statutory nuisances in general.

The main proposals are as follows:

  • Noise in the street: Under section 80 of the 1990 Act, abatement notices may be served only in respect of nuisances arising from "premises". The DoE has proposed to extend the scope of these provisions to cover noise - including vibration - nuisances in the street. The amendment would enable local authorities to control noise sources such as car repairs, vehicle alarms, noisy plant such as diesel generators, parked refrigerator vehicles, and last but not least "noisy demonstrations staged outside premises such as diplomatic Missions."

    The new power would follow the existing scheme in section 80. For example, abatement notices could be served in anticipation of a noise nuisance occurring or recurring as well as after it had occurred. In addition, the DoE has proposed that local authority officials should be empowered to gain access to a vehicle or item of plant in order to stop a noise, and to supervise the removal of a vehicle with a malfunctioning alarm.

  • Loudspeakers in the street: Loudspeaker noise is regulated under the Control of Pollution Act 1974. This prohibits the use of loudspeakers in the street to promote a trade or business, and restricts their use for most other purposes to between 8.00 and 21.00.

    Two changes are proposed to these provisions. One would give the Secretary of State a power to amend by regulation the times when loudspeakers may be used in the street for purposes other than advertising a trade or business. At the same time, local authorities would be given a power to grant consent to their use outside those hours in specific cases.

  • Burglar alarms: Further amendments to the 1990 Act would enable local authorities to oblige owners and occupiers to fit burglar alarms with a cut-out device and to notify the police where key-holders to the premises can be contacted. The cut-out period would be determined by local authorities but would be a minimum of 20 minutes.

  • Cost recovery: Under the old legislation on statutory nuisances - the Public Health Act 1936 - local authorities were able to put a charge on property in order to recover the costs of work carried out to abate or prevent a nuisance. This provision was not carried over in the 1990 Act, leaving them only with the possibility of recovering costs from the person responsible for a nuisance or from the owner of the premises concerned.

    Local authorities have since been lobbying the DoE to restore the old provision, arguing that they might otherwise be deterred from taking action to abate nuisances. The DoE has now concurred, and proposed giving them a power with the same effect as the 1936 provision.

    The proposals will require primary legislation, and it was no coincidence that a Bill to give effect to them received its first reading in the Commons on 10 June. The Bill is being promoted under the Private Member's procedure by Andrew Hunter (Con, Basingstoke), with support from another eleven Tory MPs. It is due to have a second reading on 22 January.

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