Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Noise Abatement Society (PR 64)

Summary

1/12. This submission enjoins the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee to incorporate in the Bill a modest clause, supportive of its primary aim, namely to give the police access to a power already available to local authorities to take action on instances of excessive noise. The police would be able to use this power in response to the needs of local communities in circumstances such as where noise was indicative of situations likely to be symptomatic of wider unlawful activities.

About the Noise Abatement Society

2/12. Established in 1959, the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) works towards the abatement of excessive and unnecessary noise and related pollutants, such as air and light pollution, for the benefit of all. In 1960, NAS supported passage of the Noise Abatement Act, which established noise as a statutory nuisance in the UK for the first time. The Society operates the UK's only free national noise helpline, giving advice in response to around 3000 enquiries per annum. NAS works with industry, central and local government, residents, the public sector and other NGOs to achieve pragmatic solutions to noise pollution issues of national significance. For example, it pioneered a quiet and sustainable out of hours transport delivery solution called the Silent Approach™ to benefit local residents, local authorities and industry as they seek to address the compound issues of road congestion, safety for all road users, CO2 and particulate emissions reduction and noise pollution.

3/12. NAS is campaigning nationally to raise awareness of early onset of deafness in youth due to MP3 player misuse and investigates and raises awareness of quieter technologies and innovation from industry for the public benefit. For instance, it is working towards prototype development and testing of a more effective, safer, yet quieter emergency service siren. The Society also provides a liaison service between local authorities, multiple stakeholder groups and industry when considering the environmental and social impacts of services and infrastructure to local communities including transport, entertainment venues and large scale infrastructure projects.

Introduction

4/12. The Noise Abatement Society strongly supports the measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to give local communities more effective ways of addressing late night noise, particularly on the streets.

5/12. These measures offer real hope to local communities who were condemned to misery by weaknesses in the 2003 Licensing Act. The assumption behind the 2003 Act that allowing later opening would lead to more relaxed and socially responsible drinking, and avoid noise and disorder on the streets late at night, has proved wrong. Instead of experiencing a single wave of noise from revellers dispersing from venues to their homes, often through residential streets, residents can now be woken on multiple occasions throughout the night by successive waves of dispersing revellers. Also, many revellers now chose to begin drinking at home on very cheap alcohol bought from off-licenses, or from supermarkets, including below-cost ‘loss leader’ sales, so that they are ‘merry’ before starting their evening-out much later at pubs, clubs and other venues. Thus, the 2003 Act did not solve the ‘chucking out’ and dispersal problem, but extended it through more of the night.

6/12. NAS receives many calls to its national helpline on these problems, and has, for example, been meeting representatives of local communities in Brighton and Hove affected by late night street noise on the issue. NAS can supply evidence on the nature of the problem to the Committee if required to demonstrate the extent of the misery suffered by ordinary law-abiding, hard-working people. While residents try to protect themselves, sound insulation, particularly in older buildings, can be more costly than people can afford. Also, it may be far from a complete solution to all the types of noise created, such as banging and crashing, not least on hot summer nights when people need ventilation.

7/12. The measures proposed in the Bill should go a long way to tackling late night street noise and related problems, and NAS gives them its strong support. However, Parliament should be prepared to go further if these measures prove insufficient. For example, NAS considers that Parliament should be prepared to legislate on a minimum retail price for alcohol if this proves to be necessary to curb excessive prior ‘priming’ or ‘tanking up’ on shop-bought drinks before people go out to late night venues.

Police parallel powers on noise

8/12. In addition to expressing strong support for the Bill’s proposals on late night licensing, this submission seeks incorporation of a clause to enable the Police to use a power already available to local authorities to take action on noise, for instance in relation to late night parties that have got out of control and are causing noise (and potentially other disturbance).

9/12. NAS proposes that a clause be incorporated in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill amending Section 80 and any consequential provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) to enable the police to take such action as is already available to local authorities to take in relation to Section 79(g) of the EPA, namely "noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".

10/12. Local authorities have well-established duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to investigate complaints of noise and other nuisance. However, surveys [1] typically show that more people phone the police than phone their local authority when they have a noise complaint. Many local authorities operate only a very limited out-of-hours service, or may not be able to send officers out at all at night, so that citizens are left without practical help.

11/12. In many jurisdictions, e.g. in the United States and much of Europe, the police have the primary duty to deal with noise complaints such as from late night domestic parties. The police have a parallel power in Scotland. NAS is not proposing that the full function should be transferred from local authorities to the police at this time, given the background of spending cuts in both organisations. However, many police forces already work closely with local authority environmental health officers on noise enforcement. Furthermore, some police officers consider that having the power to take action, notably on noisy late night domestic parties, would strongly support their existing policing functions. It would enable them to respond to vulnerable people in local communities, and bring to their attention problem households within a community where extreme noise-making may be a symptom of wider unlawful activities, including those related to drugs and violence. If the Committee is minded to consider incorporating such a clause, NAS would cite evidence from the work of Thames Valley Police, one of whose officers could be invited to give evidence in person.

12/12. This is not a new power, and would not be considered to come within the scope of the ‘one-in, one-out’ rule on regulation. It would support the overall aim of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in assisting the police in responding to the needs of their communities. This is especially relevant given current budgetary constraints emphasising the even greater need than ever before to easily enable ‘joined up thinking’ and cross-agency partnership working.

January 2011


[1] E.g. National Noise Attitude Survey 2000, conducted by BRE and available from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs.