Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Fall 2007 - page 4

Why Britain is no longer a nation at peace with itself

By Sarah Womack

Complaints about noise and noisy neighbours have reach-ed unprecedented levels as Britain becomes an over-crowded and fractious nation, according to an official report published in April 2007. So many people are having to live cheek by jowl, especially in large cities, that noise pollution is a blight on many lives, it says.

Since the 1980s there has been a fivefold increase in complaints about noise from rowdy neighbours. Campaigners say the problem is likely to worsen with summer looming because many home owners have begun to treat their gardens as “outdoor rooms” and acquired the noisy habits usually associated with Australians.

The study of social trends by the Office for National Statistics says complaints about building sites and roadworks—up from 31,800 in 1994 to 66,780 in 2004-05—are hardly surprising given the level of construction work in major cities, particularly London. There is also an unprecedented number of roadworks, and the proliferation of cable television firms has aggravated a perennial problem with 500,000 holes dug by utility companies in London alone.

With a population in excess of 60 million, plus more marriage breakdowns and rising immigration, the pressure to build new homes is intense. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of new properties per hectare (2.4 acres) in England rose from 24 to 40, but in London it rose from 48 to 110. With the increase in homes comes an increase in the noise people make in their gardens.


In 1984 there were 1,244 complaints per million people in England and Wales—around 62,200 in total—mostly about neighbours’ music or their pets, particularly barking dogs, or young children. This rose to 5,903 per million in 2004-05, about 313,000 complaints. The Noise Abatement Socety reported a 28% increase in complaints of garden noise last summer while councils recorded a rise in complaints about noisy neighbours of between 10% and 100%.

Outdoor kitchens, specially adapted sound systems and bright lighting have become common, and the growth of mobile phone and wireless internet technology has enabled the self-employed to run businesses from their gardens. The result, says the society, is that many residents spend up to 16 hours a day in their gardens at weekends. An estimated 10 million homes have barbecues and the average family cooks outside nine times in a summer. Some are still eating and drinking on the patio at 2 a.m. In Fife, a community mediation service even opened a file on “trampoline rage” after complaints that noisy children were bouncing high enough to see through windows.

The majority of councils say the rise in complaints is down to “selfish attitudes” by those making the noise, followed by “incompatible lifestyles”, inadequate insulation and more powerful sound equipment. Peter Wakeham, of the Noise Abatement Society, said: “You can’t see noise, you can’t taste it and until it affects you, you don’t notice it. But noise pollution affects your health in so many ways.”

—The Weekly Telegraph

Readers’ responses:

Arctic respite
Sir, For those who seek silence I recommend a period on any remote location in the Arctic. Providing there is no strong wind, the peace and quiet is quite remarkable. I have spent more than 20 years visiting the Arctic. I well remember that, after a few weeks camped on Spitsbergen, my ears became so acute that I could pick out the voices of my companions as they returned to camp many minutes before they arrived. Remoteness is the key to tranquility.  —N.P.                         

Workplace music—
Quitting job is only escape

Sir, I think we have just become too indolent to turn back the tide of racket. For two years, I’ve been subjected to Capital Radio from a loudspeaker above my work area.
My complaints to the management have fallen on deaf ears (no pun intended).


Our warehouse is more like a nightclub dance floor than a shop floor.

The final straw came a couple of weeks ago, when I was attempting to balance some paperwork at the end of my shift at about 8 p.m., while being subjected to a female presenter who sounded about 14, with music like a demented woodpecker attempting to drill holes in reinforced concrete.

Why are adults forced to have this racket inflicted on them and be laughed at by people who should know better when a complaint is lodged?

I leave at the end of the month. I take my chances rather than put up with an intrusion assaulting my ears a moment longer.  —M.C.                                                                                                                        

Noise forces 600,000 to move home each year

By Ben Fenton

Up to 600,000 Britons say they have moved in the last year to escape noisy neighbours, according to new research. A study of more that 2,000 households across Europe found noise helped explain increased stress in everyday lives. In Britain, one in seven families say their quality of life suffers a great deal or a fair amount because of sounds audible in their homes outside their control.

The survey, for the appliance manufacturer Electrolux, also found the French, at 40%, were


the most likely to report neighbours’ noise, with the Germans and Spanish next at 34% and 33%. But only 12% of British people said they suffered significant stress caused by noisy neighbours, making them together with the Norwegians, the most long-suffering of neighbours. While 13% of French people said they had confronted neighbours, only one in 20 Britons had done the same thing, making them the most timid in Europe. Applied to the whole of Britain, then more than a million people suffer “a great deal” inside their own home.

—The Weekly Telegraph

Entire contents © 2006 Right to Quiet Society. Cartoon © 1996 Right to Quiet Society
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