What a din! How to quieten summer noise

AS summer approaches, the time is fast arriving to fling open our windows and excitedly pump up the volume on stereos for al fresco parties. But noise isn't just a nuisance – it can be bad for your health.

By James Fraser

AS summer approaches, the time is fast arriving to fling open our windows and excitedly pump up the volume on stereos for al fresco parties. But noise isn't just a nuisance – it can be bad for your health. JAMES FRASER reports on how one Suffolk authority are muffling down on the emotive issue of noise pollution.

THIS week we had a National Noise Day. Shall I say that a bit louder? No, I'd better not. For neighbourhood noise – a cacophony of loud music, car alarms and barking dogs – isn't just annoying, it's bad for your health.

That's the message from Mid Suffolk District Council whose environmental control manager John Grayling said there is "an indisputable link" between noise and health.

"Nuisance noise can be detrimental to people's well-being. While the actual impact of noise nuisance varies from person to person, raised blood pressure, insomnia and high stress levels are just three common symptoms of short term and prolonged exposure to high noise levels," he said.

And complaints are on the increase. According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, complaints about domestic noise rose about 5% between 1996/7 and 1997/8, a trend confirmed by Mid Suffolk's latest figures on noise pollution.

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"Our team received over 300 noise related complaints between April 2001 and March 2002, an average of about one a day. Of those, neighbour-noise nuisance such as loud music or raised voices comprise 39% of the overall complaints," added Mr Grayling.

"The complaints we have received about noise pollution have increased incrementally every year by an average of 6.3%, although the number of complaints rose a staggering 27.6% between 1999/00 to 2000/01.

"We're not sure why that was, perhaps it indicates a greater awareness of the problem rather than an actual increase in noise pollution."

Noise complaints are also seasonally affected. "We receive the most complaints around this time of year. When the weather improves, it's easy to throw open the windows and enjoy the summer air – fine if you don't have the stereo on but if you do, your neighbours might not share your taste in music, particularly if it's played at loud volume. Even the radio can be a distraction.

"The bottom line is, good weather brings people outdoors but it can send neighbours rushing to the phones. Enjoy the summer by all means, but be considerate."

"We have enormous sympathy for our complainants and would urge people to get in contact with us. It's certainly one of the most emotive issues the Council is concerned with."

Visiting schools in the area to educate youngsters about the problems noise creates – you would think they need no further training – is one initiative. Visual displays have also been put in various locations including the Asda superstore in Stowmarket, the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre and the reception in council offices in Needham Market.

The council has outlined steps people themselves can take to combat noise pollution.

The first step, particularly where noisy neighbours are concerned, would be to approach them outlining the problem in a controlled and polite manner.

"People are often totally unaware that they are causing a problem and will happily comply to a request about turning the stereo down. But if you think a neighbour will react angrily, proceed with caution," advised Mr Grayling. "We'd rather people got the council involved if they think their complaint could provoke a hostile reaction. At the end of the day, you've got to live next door to that person and its best if that can be done in a relaxed an open atmosphere rather than having to hide in fear behind closed doors.

"If the noise continues, then we may ask people to keep a log sheet over a mutually agreed time period so we can determine the extent of the disturbance. Where necessary, an officer will visit to determine whether the noise represents a statuary nuisance, even outside of office hours.

"If we are satisfied that a statuary nuisance exists, a Noise Abatement Notice under the Environmental Protection Act (1990) will be served on the person. Failure to comply with the notice is a criminal offence and we'd certainly chase a prosecution in these instances to protect innocent members of our community against persistent offenders."

Mid Suffolk District Council has posted a list of "sound solutions" on their website: simple remedies that can minimise the impact of noise. Recommendations include inviting the neighbours to a party, playing musical instruments at an agreed time when it will cause least disturbance and registering keyholders with your local council so house or car alarms can be dealt with in the owner's absence.

Weblink: www.midsuffolk.gov.uk

* A pair of Technics cordless headphones are up for grabs in a competition held by Mid Suffolk District Council.

The competition is being run all week to mark National Noise Awareness Day on Wednesday, May 22 and is open to everyone except Council employees.

Entrants are being asked to sort a list of household items into ascending order, starting with the quietest sound and finishing with the loudest.

The list is as follows: normal conversation, electric drill, bedroom at night, television, hairdryer / Hoover, loud music, refrigerator.

All entries must be submitted by May 31 with name and address and correct entries will be put into the prize draw. The winner will be selected at random and will be notified by post. For further information, or to enter the competition, click on their website at www.midsuffolk.gov.uk.