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