After a spate of venues have been closed or threatened by closure by often just one complainant or by those who have moved into residence beside existing venues – often in new developments, a new e-petition has been sent up to challenge noise laws in the UK – “Urgent Review of Noise Abatement legislation” calling upon the Secretary of State to:
“conduct an urgent review of all applicable Noise Legislation so that the collective right of local communities to be able to enjoy well-run and managed music venues is properly balanced within the law against the individual rights of owners and occupiers of adjoining properties to limit environmental noise.”
We request that this review specifically addresses the possibility of new owner/occupiers or developers misusing existing legislation to demand a lowering of environmental noise in a zone in which it has traditionally existed, resulting in the potential closure of highly valued community spaces including music venues, church halls and arts centres.”
As this e-petition received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – DEFRA) then provided the following response:
“Legislation relating to noise is very wide ranging. It includes regulations that cover building standards, housing, health and safety at work, antisocial behaviour, noise from outdoor machinery and noise as a statutory nuisance. The Government has recently reviewed its noise legislation as part of the Red Tape Challenge and believes that the law, as currently constituted, strikes the appropriate balance between managing the noise environment and considering the needs of business.
We believe that it is important that communities are able to enjoy well-run and managed music events and have introduced policies to support businesses and music venue premises. A key example is deregulating entertainment licensing, a process that started in October 2012, when the Live Music Act came into force. This removed the licensing requirement for amplified live music taking place between 08:00-23:00 before audiences of no more than 200 people on relevant licensed premises authorised to sell alcohol for consumption on those premises, and suspended any existing conditions on the premises licence or club premises certificate relating to live music.
More recently the Government proposed raising the audience limit set by the Live Music Act 2012 from 200 to 500 to enable greater numbers of businesses and music venue premises to benefit. We also proposed removing the licensing requirement for live music activities between 08:00-23:00 before audiences of no more than 500 people on local authority, hospital, school and community premises, such as church and village halls. A draft Legislative Reform Order to further amend the Licensing Act 2003 will shortly be laid before Parliament.
However, it is also important to have safeguards in place to protect the wider rights of individuals in a community. Statutory nuisance legislation seeks to stop noise that unreasonably and substantially interferes with a person’s enjoyment of their property or damages their health.
Since the late 1800s, it has become well established in case law that it is not a defence to proceedings for nuisance that a complainant ‘came to the nuisance’. Enforcement action can be taken in relation to issues that constitute a statutory nuisance, regardless of whether those circumstances arose before the complainant became the occupier of the affected premises. This is to protect a person’s rights to the comfortable and healthy enjoyment of the premises owned or occupied by them. This principle applies equally between two business occupiers or two residential occupiers as between a resident and a business.
It is for the local authority to decide on a case by case basis whether or not a noise constitutes a statutory nuisance and the ‘character of the locality’ is one of a number of relevant factors that an environmental health officer (EHO) will consider. Therefore, well-established music venues in an area would certainly be a consideration for an EHO. They also take into account matters such as how loud the noise is, the reasonableness of the activity being carried out, the time of day of the occurrence, its duration and its frequency of occurrence.
The planning regime also has an important role to play in helping to prevent nuisances. Planning policies and decisions should avoid noise giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development, and mitigate and reduce to a minimum other adverse impacts on health and quality of life arising from noise from new development, including through the use of conditions. However, the grant of planning permission does not license a nuisance and in some cases businesses may need to do more than just comply with their planning conditions to avoid causing a nuisance. Where appropriate, EHOs and the courts will look at planning decisions and compliance with planning decisions when assessing whether a nuisance exists.
The Government recognises that smaller music venues are the breeding ground for musicians to hone their craft. The future success of the UK music industry depends, in part, on new talent from the grass roots who have developed their talent performing in front of audiences in smaller venues of up to 500 people. The Government wishes to see an increase in attendance at live entertainment, providing a further boost to the cultural and creative industries, as well as significant enjoyment and social benefit for the general population.
The Government considers that it is striking the right balance between those who welcome music entertainment and those who have concerns about it, and between necessary protections from unreasonable noise and removing unnecessary burdens on small businesses.
This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.
The petition closed at the end of August.
Most recently Manchester music venue Night & Day has been called to what the Manchester Evening News called a “crunch licensing hearing” as it continues to tackle complaints from neighbours over noise levels. According to the MEN, the venue stands accused of repeatedly breaching a noise abatement notice issue by Manchester City Council. The venue said “The council have made an unprecedented move to review our licence before we have had the opportunity to appeal the Noise Abatement Notice in front of an independent judge in court”. Recently, and after a spate of threatened closures including the George in East London, the Fleece in Bristol, and the Boileroom in Guildford, petition organiser Mark Davyd, the founder of the Music Venue Trust, warned of a ‘tsunami’ of noise abatement orders against venues and called for ‘common sense’ approach to resolve issues – often caused by new developments alongside pre-existing and often much loved music venues – wit Davyd adding ‘if you hate music – why move next to a music venue?’. The MVT has called for the reform of existing legislation, which it says is unfair to music venues and is liaising with Save Live Music Australia which has fought a successful campaign against opportunistic developers down under.
In Australia, residential developers building next to existing live music venues will have to foot the bill for sound-proofing under new planning changes to be introduced by the Victorian Government. The “agent of change” principle, which will also apply to new music venues, will put the responsibility of noise mitigation on the new development, not the existing businesses and residents nearby. Planning Minister Matthew Guy said once the new regulations are in place, established pubs and clubs will not be forced to close due to noise complaints from new neighbours saying “Should an apartment block or others move next door to an existing music venue, it is then incumbent upon those people to ensure they have adequate noise and soundproofing requirements in place for themselves, rather than putting that onus upon the live music venue”. Whilst it has been argued that a clear definition of what constitutes a ‘live music venue’ is needed, the Planning Minister said that the changes meant that Victoria will have the strongest level of protection for live music venues in Australia : “We are doing absolutely everything we can as a government to ensure live music is vibrant and a strong part of Melbourne’s cultural scene,” Mr Guy said.
In the UK in response to DEFRA’s to the MVT petition, MVT organisers has written an open letter to Liz Truss MP at DEFRA, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles saying the campaign can now focus on three main points:
- Calling on the Government to cut red tape
- Establishing national criteria for noise abatement to be used by Environmental Health Officers
- Asking local authorities to adopt an agent of change principle – meaning (a) if a venue increases its noise it should make changes to adapt (b) if a developer builds next to an existing music venue they adapt their building plans to that and plan for the noise and (c) if a new occupier moves into an area where there is a live music venue they must adapt to that venue
And finally on noise – Bristol’s Fleece gained a partial victory in its fight for survival when local authority put strict planning conditions on a developer who plans to convert a neighbouring office block into residential flats. After a petition was signed by 41,500 in support of the venue, Bristol City Council said the development must be subject to noise assessment prior to occupation and noise insulation measures included a requirement that the new flats be fitted with mechanical ventilation and have permanently fixed-shut windows. The developer can appeal these conditions. In London the Ministry of Sound reached a settlement with the developer of neighbouring flats at the beginning of January 2014 after intervention by Mayor Boris Johnson. Developer Oakmayne will build 335 apartments and 65 affordable homes on the Eileen House site in Newington Causeway. The developer agreed to alter the block to protect residents from loud music. The new 41-storey building will now include acoustic glazing, sealed windows and internal “wintergardens” to address the club’s concerns.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-25642151 And there is a good article in the Huffington Post by Mark Davyd that argues that if you don’t like the smell of fish – don’t move to a fishing port – even if picturesque, and then try and have it closed! Fancy living next door to a Church but don’t like the sound of bells? Just write a letter and you can silence them! Fancy living in the country but don’t like the sound of farm animals? Shut the farm!