Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Council investigators swamped by 1,000 noise complaints a month from residents

Complaints to local councils over noise have reached a deafening 1,000 a month.

And the overall level of grievances is increasing again, after a slight dip.

Latest figures show a total of around 12,000 complaints were dealt with by the Northern Ireland's 26 councils over a year.

More than four out of five cases are domestic – sparked by house parties, TVs turned up too high and loud music.

Yet the overall level of complaints has soared by almost 50% over the last decade – from when statistics were first compiled.

The latest annual report shows a 5.25% increase in the total number of complaints received between April 2011 and March last year compared to the previous 12 months.

And it admits a "marked change" from the 0.87% reduction identified in the report the year before.

Yet despite the increase in complaints, there has also been a 50% drop in the number of prosecutions – 24 in 2010/11 against 12 in 2011/12.

Compared to 2003/04, however, when the numbers of complaints were first compiled, the figures for 2011-2012 represent a 45.21% hike.

Domestic noise accounted for 85.2% of complaints followed by noise from commerce and leisure (6.2%), incidents in the street (3.8%), construction (1.9%), industrial (1.8%) and transport (1%).

Now Environment Minister Alex Attwood is urging town halls to use enhanced powers to deal with noise coming from domestic properties.

During this year Mr Attwood intends to draw up 'action plans' to tackle areas from where the noise complaints come loudest.

The statistics showing that councils received more than 12,000 complaints are contained in the recently published Noise Complaint Statistics for Northern Ireland 2011/2012.

Mr Attwood said: "As with previous years, domestic noise is the major culprit and this is something that can, in the main, be avoided, especially those complaints relating to loud music/televisions and parties."

The SDLP minister said one of the main drivers of the 2011 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act was to give councils greater powers to deal with noise from domestic premises at night.

"I have been strongly urging all district councils to make full use of all the powers available to them to deal with persistent offenders and I will be monitoring the noise complaints statistics to assess the impact of the new legislation," he added.

His department is also progressing work to tackle noise through the requirements of the EU Environmental Noise Directive. The aim of the directive is to avoid, prevent or reduce on a prioritised basis the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise.

Last year, the DoE completed work on determining the noise exposure of the population through a mapping exercise.

The next stage of this work, to be undertaken during 2013, is to establish action plans based on the mapping results.

"Once I have approved or adopted these action plans they will be submitted to the EU Commission."

The noise maps are currently available for the public to view on the DoE's noise website at: www.noiseni.co.uk – and the action plans will be added after adoption.

Belfast City Council – which has had a dedicated night-time noise team for more than 10 years – can account for up to half of the province's problem.

Belfast has 24.33 complaints per 1,000 of population with Coleraine next at 7.09, Banbridge 4.44, Lisburn 4.09 and Ards 4.03 per 1,000 persons.

Fermanagh had the fewest complaints when adjusted for population (2.12 per 1,000), followed by Magherafelt (2.31), Ballymena (2.56) and Castlereagh (2.91 per 1,000 of population).

Belfast's principal environmental protection officer Heather Armstrong said: "Excessive noise of any kind can make life a misery and can cause stress and annoyance when it interferes with your sleep, for example."

One recurrent cause of complaints in the city is alarm systems going off.

"The council has powers to take action against faulty alarm systems in the city, and the property owners will be billed for any costs incurred," Ms Armstrong added.

"In order to prevent such problems, we would encourage homeowners and businesses to register their details with us and request a keyholder registration form. All keyholders must then be contactable by phone and live within 20 minutes of the property.

"There are also ways of ensuring that, should your alarm go off accidentally, it cuts out after 20 minutes. It's also worth remembering that if your alarm depends on an electricity meter, it's important to ensure the meter is topped up to prevent false alarms."

Factfile

An analysis of complaints about noise received by local councils from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012, reveals:

• Complaints rose by 5.25% last year;

• Complaints had fallen by 0.87% in the year before that;

• There was a 50% drop in the number of prosecutions during 2011/2012;

• Complaints have risen 45% since figures were first compiled in 2003/04.

Roosters, jets, ice cream vans and, er, exuberant neighbours

  • A homeowner in Antrim contacted their local council to complain their neighbour was making too much noise while carrying out DIY. The neighbour's home improvements caused a resident to lodge an official complaint.

• An Armagh resident rang the local council saying they were at the end of their tether over the sound made by a petrol station's car wash. The noisy machinery adjacent to their property was said to have penetrated their home throughout the day.

• The tunes played by an ice cream van left a sour taste with a Carrickfergus resident who complained to council about the noise. They lost patience with the songs played every time the van came into their area.

• Despite handling goods with care, delivery drivers in Fermanagh went about their business too noisily for one resident who contacted the local council.

• A dog which howled continuously became a nightmare for neighbours, and left council staff in something of a predicament. Morris Young of Magherafelt District Council, explained: "We had a dog who howled constantly rather than barking. In barking cases we would count the number of barks. But with a continuous howl, it was a bit more difficult. It adds another dimension. It is something that we have not come across before or since." The dog was eventually moved out to the countryside to give long-suffering neighbours some peace and quiet.

• A military plane raised a Newtownabbey resident's blood pressure sky-high, causing them to vent their frustration to staff at the local council.

• Early morning rooster calls led to complaints to Ballymena Borough Council. Several locals contacted noise pollution officers after being awoken by the crowing at dawn.

• Fed-up residents in Antrim complained to their local council about the nocturnal activities of neighbours. A spokeswoman said council officers there have taken a number of complaints regarding "exuberant lovemaking".

• Neighbourly relations can get a bit frosty at times. Council workers in Magherafelt were called to respond to complaints about homeowners deliberately banging walls and doors in their house to set their neighbours' nerves on edge.

• An electronic bird scarer, which deters birds from crops with a regular noise, prompted environmental health officers from Moyle District Council to scour farmland in a search for the offending device.

• Heavy machinery at a sewage pumping station caused an avalanche of complaints from residents in the Moyle District Council area.

• Noisy car exhausts and revving car engines prompted irate homeowners in the Magerhafelt area to call in the local council.

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