The Consequences of the UK’s Urban Nuisance Noise
In March of 2018, the local Council for Blackpool in Lancashire — a solidly lower-middle class seaside city in the north-west of England — received a noise complaint. The anonymous complainer’s neighbours, Alexander and Lorraine Burgeen, had just adopted a pair of cockerels from a rescue centre, and were keeping them in their suburban backyard. The cockerels, as is their natural behaviour, had begun crowing at 5am, and not stopped until dusk.
Stories like these Blackpool residents’ are uncommon enough that they can make the local news, but more typical versions of the same tale — say, when dogs bark endlessly through the night, or a neighbour constantly uses loud power tools at inappropriate times — are the leading causes of noise-related stress in our everyday lives. That stress, if left unchecked, can lead to a wide array of physical and mental health issues, including high blood pressure, insomnia, and depression. Councils often have few resources to directly deal with the issues, and should the noise-maker be prosecuted, the judicial system usually operates slowly enough that the noise will continue for a long time before a solution is enforced.
So what happened to the Burgeens and their cockerels? Before we find out, let's take a deeper look into the many kinds of nuisance noise, and to what degree noise infractions are prosecuted.
The Kinds of Nuisance Noise Heard in the UK
Let’s pan over to Teesside, a slightly more upper-middle class town situated around the banks of the River Tees in England’s North-East. Home to a small airport, a popular university, and a strong chemical processing industry, it’s recently become more famous for one defining feature: noise. Between March of 2019 and March of 2020 (just before pandemic lockdowns came into effect), the people of Teesside suburb Stockton lodged 1,913 noise complaints to their council — that’s 9.7 complaints per 1,000 residents, over 150% of the English national average of 6.4. Across Teesside as a whole, 3,345 noise complaints were lodged, lowering that statistic to 7 per 1,000 residents and accounting for almost 1% of the entire nation’s complaint statistics. And this was all before lockdowns, which have only exacerbated noise issues. The biggest offender in Teesside seems to be animal noise: one substantial fine was issued to a man after his dogs were recorded barking more than 1,500 times in 20 minutes (your maths is right, that is more than once per second!). Other residents complain of flocks of seagulls nesting on chimneys and scavenging for food — a much harder issue to solve. Aviation noise from the local airport is another issue, especially when RAF jets use the area to practice manoeuvres; although aircraft enthusiasts are loud and proud of their love of this particular incident on social media, many other commenters report the experience as surprising and stressful. So what can the local councils do about these and the many other kinds of noise complaints lodged in towns like Teesside and Blackpool across the UK?
How Nuisance Noise Can Be Addressed
Well, the processes are lengthy. Many don’t have dedicated noise control teams, and rely on local police to enforce any short-term nuisance noise such as parties. For long-term issues like the Burgeen’s cockerels, councils need evidence of nuisance noise in the form of thorough witness statements, and occasionally sound recordings. Should that evidence prove to be sufficient, they will issue the offender with an Abatement Notice: a legally binding directive from the Council to resolve the problem. Should the directions in the notice not be followed, the offender can be criminally prosecuted and fined by the Courts and Council. This process can take months, even years, to resolve, and during resolution the Courts are likely to pile on additional directives for the offender.
In the case of the Burgeens' cockerels, they were first reported to Blackpool Council in March of 2018. Neighbours continued to lodge complaints for three years, even bringing the issue directly to the local Councillor Rick Scott in an effort to remove the cockerels. On 8 December 2021, Mr and Mrs Burgeen pled guilty to offences under the Noise Abatement Act and were sentenced to one year of conditional discharges (that is, they will avoid jail time unless they commit further crimes) and fines totalling £244. Court Chairman Simon Bridge told the couple “You must sort this out now. This is a warning,” and to find the cockerels somewhere else to live. This result is similar to those seen by noisy dog owners, who can be forced to have their dog undergo extensive training.
How We Help
Noise complaints like these don’t just come from one grumpy neighbour: they come from real people experiencing real consequences of excess noise. Many such people would agree that three and a half years is a long time to be getting woken up at 5am by crowing cockerels, but councils can struggle to control less obvious offenders without sufficient data. That’s where NoiseNet comes in. With sufficient extended monitoring practices in place, councils can effectively and efficiently address complaints with empirical and objective data, saving everyone involved time, money, and stress. To learn more, check out https://www.noisenet.com/.