No quick fixes for noise disturbance

Related tags Premises License

At the beginning of the year on this page I predicted that noise was likely to be a major issue for 2007 - and so it is turning out. It is already...

At the beginning of the year on this page I predicted that noise was likely to be a major issue for 2007 - and so it is turning out.

It is already apparent that the smoking ban will result in a far greater proportion of customers using outside areas, and this will prove in some cases to be a flash point with neighbours. A number of premises licences already have restrictions on the use of outside areas imposed as conditions at the behest of environmental health officers. These may be either to do with hours, or in some cases an actual ban on the use by customers of certain areas. Infringement of these has already caused complaints to be made, and in some instances a licence review has been sought.

There seem to be three areas where nuisance can emanate from pubs. The first is musical entertainment being loud enough to be heard in adjoining residential properties. The second is the noise of customers enjoying themselves on the premises. The third is noise from customers either leaving the premises or causing disturbance in the street.

The third of these is a highly contentious area for the trade. Licensees claim, with some justification, that they cannot be asked to control people who have left their premises, particularly those who may even have been thrown out due to their behaviour. The law requires them to remove disorderly customers, so how can they be blamed when those people create more disturbance in the street?

That is all well and good, but there is a growing counter-argument that the actual existence of the premises is the root cause of the problem: if the premises were not there, then none of the rowdiness would occur.

There are also leading cases on the subject which show that licensees can be held

responsible for disorder caused on the street, and the only argument is about the extent of that responsibility. The current law - at least the Guidance - seems to suggest that the effect of a number of similar licensed premises in the same area can be cumulative, so that the impact on the environment, in terms of disturbance, is greater in those areas.

But it is hard on a licensee who has gone the extra mile to pacify his neighbours and keep noise under control, to find that one persistent objector can jeopardise his trade and the continuation of his licence, while a hundred or more happy customers from the surrounding area do not seem to have the same "clout".

That imbalance is inevitable, and it does not just exist in licensing, either. It is very common on planning issues, particularly the development of land. But licensees are in the eye of the storm because they often represent the only social and entertainment centre in an area where people congregate to have a good time - and that often involves some noise!

I cannot suggest a quick fix to noise issues. But I do know that close liaison with neighbours is imperative - even those you cannot stand. A dialogue has to be created, even if you agree to differ on some issues. In my experience much tension can be removed by giving your local residents an opportunity to voice their complaints and hear from you what steps you are taking to minimise disturbance.

This is not always easy, but the attempt must be made. The alternative is to sit in your ivory tower and swear at them, which will probably mean you get more complaints than ever!

Related topics Licensing law

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