Noise issues continue to stir up trouble among publicans
by Richard Williams of thePublican.com's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson
I regularly receive instructions from publican clients in relation to noise issues within pubs. This is a growing area of regulation, with the increasing use of noise abatement notices to impose criminal sanctions and where nuisance noise levels are permitted to continue following warnings by environmental health departments.
It is becoming more common for local authorities, when issuing public entertainment licences, to specifically "tailor" licence conditions to suit the needs of particular premises.
For example, special conditions are frequently imposed on licences to set maximum internal noise levels and also maximum levels in the vicinity of neighbouring (usually residential) premises. A breach of a special condition relating to noise attached to a licence is an offence and if convicted the holder of the licence can be subject to a maximum fine of £5,000.
Often these agreed levels impose a maximum permitted decibel level within a pub, restricted by a noise limiting device attached to the amplifier system. The level in practice is usually set at a figure agreed with the council environmental health department. The noise limiter should be tamper-proof, so that levels cannot be adjusted beyond this figure. In my experience, it is usual for internal levels to be set at around 90 decibels, with music cutting out if this level is breached.
Many operators consider that this is an appropriate level to create a "lively" atmosphere within their premises and would not wish to operate at lower noise levels.
You will no doubt have read recent reports about the proposed European Noise Directive, which will set a maximum workplace noise limit of 85 decibels and which is due to come into force in 2007. It was initially hoped that pubs and nightclubs would be exempt from this legislation, which was designed to protect workers from excessive noise levels in factories. However, it has now become clear that licensed premises will not be exempt from the legislation, which will impose criminal sanctions if the 85 decibel limit is breached.
I have no doubt that the pub industry will continue to press for the exemption to be reintroduced, allowing higher limits to be set. Many operators tell me they will simply not be able to operate at these lower levels and it is clear that customers demand loud music when they go out.
After all, who wants to go to a nightclub with quiet music?If the legislation cannot be amended, local authorities will have to review noise maximum noise levels at all premises where there is an entertainment licence in force.
Where there is no entertainment licence, licensees will have to control limits if they wish to avoid prosecution under the new legislation.
The introduction of the legislation in 2007 may seem a long time away, but operators should start reviewing policies now to establish how they propose to provide entertainment under the new regime.