Ministers, shocked at the rel-uctance of councils to act, are reviewing the Noise Act which empowers local authorities to set up 24-hour patrols and impose instant fines. In all, 94 per cent of councils have told the National Society for Clean Air (NSCA) they have no intention of implementing the Act. Only a handful are doing so.
The Act - the brainchild of a Tory minister who had a noisy neighbour - was designed to plug holes in existing legislation. But the councils say it is unnecessary.
Sir Robert Atkins, a close friend of John Major - who once claimed to have "never lost any campaign that I have organised or been involved in" - made the Bill a personal crusade, both when junior environment minister in the mid 1990s and after he returned to the backbenches.
He told the Independent on Sunday he once had "an exceedingly noisy chap next door" when living in north London. "He was a drummer in a club and came back and played his drums at four in the morning," he said.
He added that as an environment minister he had tried to bring in the Act but failed for lack of parliamentary time. But the Government had agreed to support it as a private member's bill after he left office.
The Act empowered councils to set up teams of noise inspectors to field complaints from houses between 11pm and 7am, seven days a week. The inspectors can then visit the complainants and measure the noise and, if it exceeds 35 decibels, impose an immediate pounds 100 fine.
But, said Sir Robert, councils were given the option not to implement the Bill under pressure from Treasury which feared the cost of setting it up. He believes ministers should consider making it mandatory.
The NSCA says 10 councils have implemented the act: Barnet, Bromley, Havering, Waltham Forest and Westminster in London; Shepway in Kent; Hertsmere in Hertfordshire; Newark and Sherwood in Nottinghamshire; Surrey Heath and East Devon. Westminster has 24-hour patrols but has never issued an on-the-spot fine. Newark and Sherwood have used the Act only twice.
Valerie Weedon, National Co-ordinator of the Noise Network, says it is an "absolute scandal" it has not been used more widely. She says: "It is the nature of noise that you have to deal with it at the time. It leaves no evidence. You have to be there when people phone up."