Noise complaints are investigated under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (NI) 2011. This legislation enables the Council to deal with a noise disturbance if they think it is causing a nuisance to a person, or people living nearby.
There is no specific level of noise that constitutes a noise nuisance. When considering whether or not a noise nuisance exists, the Council will consider the loudness of the noise, when the noise occurs, how often the noise occurs, the effect on the person affected by the noise and the likely reaction of the average person to the noise. If the Council is satisfied that a noise nuisance exists, they will serve a Noise Abatement notice on the person responsible for making the noise, requesting them to minimise it. Non-compliance with the noise abatement notice can result in formal action in the magistrate's court.
Noise is very subjective i.e. something which annoys one person may be hardly noticed by another person e.g. loud music during the day may disturb someone who works a night shift and is trying to sleep, but may not cause disturbance to others. Similarly, a barking dog at night may not annoy its owner but may cause great disturbance to the neighbours.
When Environmental Health Officers are considering if something is a statutory nuisance or not, they are applying the objective standards set out by legal precedent rather than what someone might consider to be a ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’ in everyday language. Just because someone might consider a noise to be a ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’, does not necessarily mean that it may be a statutory nuisance. As such, Environmental Health do not have powers to take formal action in such instances.