AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Noise pollution

Contents

Noise can be defined as unwanted sound. It is a source of irritation and stress for many people and can even damage our hearing if it is loud enough. Many of us are exposed to stressful levels of noise at home and at work. Noise problems can be dealt with in various ways depending on what the source and nature of the noise is. General noise pollution can generally be dealt with as a statutory nuisance under

  • In England & Wales, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA)
  • In Northern Ireland, the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (PCLGO)
For more information on statutory nuisance, see our section on 'Statutory nuisance and pollution'.

Noise from neighbours may also be dealt with by the imposition of ASBOs, in addition to the various options available under the EPA and PCLGO. ASBOs for noise nuisance are only really applicable in serious and recurrent instances. For more information, see our section on 'Noisy neighbours'.

If the local council thinks the noise is a statutory nuisance, they will serve an abatement notice on the neighbour. An abatement notice will set out what is required of your neighbour. For instance, if the issue is loud music, they may be asked to stop the noise outright, or be asked to just play music between set times.

In some cases, the council may not need to prove a statutory nuisance where the premises hold a public entertainment licence. Action can be taken against premises that operate outside of their licensing agreement.

Commercial noise

Noise pollution from trade, industrial and business premises (for example, noisy machinery, pubs and clubs) is dealt with similarly to that from domestic premises, except where those premises have to comply with special provisions relevant to the business that is being carried out on those premises. For example, the council may not need to prove a statutory nuisance where the premises hold a public entertainment licence. Action can be taken against premises that operate outside of their licensing agreement.

Barking dogs

Dogs bark naturally - however, constant barking, whining or howling can be disturbing and annoying for neighbours. You can make a complaint to your local council about a dog that is disturbing you, or causing a nuisance because of its barking. Usually the environmental health department will handle your complaint. Contact your local council for details.

Road traffic noise

There are no specific legal limits on noise from roads, but noise levels might be taken into account when planning to build new roads or houses and offices near to roads. Noise barriers or noise insulation, like secondary or double glazing, may be used to reduce the problem.

If noise from new roads exceeds certain limits at existing houses, then householders might be eligible for noise insulation grants. These are available through your local highway authority, details of which you can find from your local council.

In England, the Highways Agency is, so far as reasonably possible, working towards reducing the impact of noise by installing quieter road surfaces on trunk roads and motorways.

Vehicle noise

Road vehicles have to comply with noise-level standards. The police can take action if vehicles have defective silencers or are being driven in a way that creates too much noise.

Railway noise

People living close to railways might be affected by high noise levels, but there are no legal controls unless the noise is caused by a new railway affecting your property. In this case, householders might be eligible for a noise insulation grant.

If particular trains are causing you a problem, you should speak to the company operating those trains. Information on train operators can be found on the National Rail website.

In addition, Network Rail, which is responsible for the operation, maintenance and renewal of Britain's rail infrastructure, operates a 24-hour helpline on 08457 11 41 41.

Aircraft noise

The EU regulates noise at the following UK airports:

Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, London Stansted and Manchester.

There are even more stringent restrictions at London City and Belfast City airports, as they are near large cities.

Noise limits also vary depending on whether they apply to day or night flights.

Measures to reduce noise include:

  • Flying over the least populated areas on take-off whenever practical (noise preferential routes for departing aircraft)
  • Restrictions on night flights (e.g. partial ban on night flights or complete phase-out of the noisiest aircraft)
  • Grant schemes to install noise insulation in homes affected (for specific information, contact the airport which affects you)
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website has general information and advice, including a downloadable factsheet on aircraft noise.

How to complain about air noise

If you want to complain about noise and low flying, you should get in touch with the airport concerned or the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA can provide general advice and information, and has published a number of information sheets, including one about aircraft noise.

Military aircraft are covered by different rules, and complaints of excessive noise or low flying from them can be made through the Ministry of Defence website.

Scotland

In Scotland, nuisance caused by noise from commercial or industrial premises, such as shops or factories, can be dealt with as above under Sections 79 - 82 of The Environmental Protection Act 1990. This is the same as the position in England & Wales.

In Scotland, public places used for entertainment require a licence from the local authority. This licence will detail restrictions on noise in order to limit the impact on local residents.

If a noise nuisance is found to exist at a licensed premises, officers from the local council's Pollution Control Section or equivalent may contact the management informally to advise them of the problem and encourage them to take voluntary action to remedy the problem. If the noise persists, then action will be taken under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. See our section 'Statutory nuisance and pollution' for more information.

Where licensed premises have been the cause of a statutory nuisance, this will be reported to the Licensing Board and may influence their decision to renew or grant further licences to the licensee. Barking dogs should also be reported to the local council in Scotland.