Night noise to be legally silenced

Government aims to make disturbance a criminal offence
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The Government plans to crack down on noisy neighbours by making night-time noise disturbance a crime, Robert Atkins, the environment minister, disclosed yesterday. The proposal comes amid mounting concern over amplified music and all-night parties, which are largely beyond current police powers.

A consultation paper seeks comments on options for creating a new criminal offence based on 35 decibels for acceptable indoor noise levels, which would reflect World Health Organisation guidelines.

The minister said in a written parliamentary reply: "Such an offence has the potential to produce a swifter remedy than the current statutory nuisance regime for some of the most disturbing neighbour noise problems." He added: "Inconsiderate noisy neighbours can cause extreme distress and suffering."

It is thought that more than one-fifth of the population have cause for complaint about noisy neighbours. In extreme cases it has been blamed for violence and stress-related illness. The paper spotlights other kinds of action recommended by a working party set up to review controls last October in the wake of steeply rising complaints - about 160,000 each year, a tripling over the last decade.

The recommendations include encouraging local authorities to establish arrangements for obtaining warrants to enter private homes to temporarily confiscate noise-making equipment such as hi-fi systems, or silence burglar alarms.

A specific power of temporary confiscation - underpinning existing practice with a stronger legal base - needs to be introduced, the paper says, with a new power for councils to charge a fee for the return of the equipment. Councils could also seek orders to deprive owners permanently of equipment following a successful prosecution.

Mr Atkins said: "Whenever possible, attempts should be made to resolve problems informally. However, it is vital thateffective legislation is in place to deal with situations where a formal remedy is the correct course." The confiscation proposal received advance backing by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, in his Spectator lecture last week.

The paper wants councils to provide information to residents about noise complaints services and to increase awareness of noise issues. Councils should also be encouraged to run complaints services outside working hours, it says.