Cut Noise

Noise pollution has soared since the pandemic began

This article first appeared in the Independent, 2/5/21, written by Tom Bawden

A new study has found that complaints about noisy neighbours have jumped in the past year.  Nearly a third of Britons find it difficult to sleep because of noise leve ls – a problem that has got worse under the pandemic, according to a new survey. As people spend more time at home, they are drinking, socialising and playing loud music more than when pubs and other leisure activities are in full swing – leading to an increase in household noise.

Some 31 per cent of the population is finding it difficult to sleep – while a third say they have noticed more noise since Covid-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, according to a survey of 1,646 Britons by the sustainable insulation company Rockwool. Meanwhile, three in ten people say noise stops them from opening doors and windows – and overall, 77 per cent of those surveyed said they hear unwanted noise in their homes.

“The pandemic has led to more people working, studying, and spending time in their own homes. With this they’ve become more aware of unwanted noise and our results show it’s having a detrimental effect on their ability to relax, unwind, or even sleep,” said Rockwool managing director Darryl Matthews.

Gloria Elliott OBE, Chief Executive of the Noise Abatement Society added: “This data shows that noise is a serious problem, impacting on our quality of life and the enjoyment of our homes.” Noise is a major nuisance, but worse than that it can also seriously affect people’s health and wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, figures Rockwell obtained through freedom of information requests to 55 local authorities across Britain suggest the pandemic has led to a 29 per cent increase in noise complaints to local authorities across the country. The biggest rises came in Birmingham City Council, the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, and the London Borough of Bexley, which recorded increases of 156 per cent, 99 per cent, and 76 per cent respectively in 2020, when compared with the previous year.

There's a complaint about noisy neighbours every 80 seconds


In 2019, nearly 424,000 noise complaints were made to local councils across the UK – the equivalent of one every 80 seconds.

Music and parties (28 per cent), domestic (14 per cent) and animal noise (13 per cent) were the top three causes for complaints over the past three years.

London is the noisiest region, but Belfast, Newport and Coventry all make the top 10 noisiest local authorities.

The figures are revealed in research from Churchill Home Insurance (1).

The noise makers are getting away with it

Despite the frequency of complaints, however, only one in every 54 resulted in a noise abatement notice (2) being issued. That’s just a fraction over 2%. Some complaints can be resolved through a conversation with the neighbour. And some noise makers will stop after a warning. But this low figure must mean a lot of noise makers are escaping scot free. Local authorities can be reluctant to issue noise abatement orders because they need quite a high level of proof. Some have used anti-social behaviour orders instead since the process in simpler and quicker. But, nevertheless, it does seem that noise suffers are not being well served.

We have a noise crisis on our hands

We hear a lot about the climate crisis. Nothing about a noise crisis. Yet, with a complaint every 80 seconds, this can only be described as a crisis; even an epidemic. It should not be left to local authorities to deal with this. Government needs to tackle the underlying causes.  Government should also ensure that local councils have adequate resources to tackle the crisis.

Government action required

Music and parties account for a huge 28% of complaints. There will undoubtedly be persistent offenders. Motorists who break the rules get points on their licences, leading to a ban. Why not introduce a similar scheme for those who persistently those who repeatedly annoy with their music. Three offences and you are banned from playing music for three years. Extreme? I think not……given how widespread the problem is and the suffering it causes.

Unless we are willing to impose these sorts of measures, we have no chance of tacking the epidemic of noise that is causing a complaint to be made every 80 seconds. Let that sink in. A complaint every 80 seconds. If you can’t handle your music, you lose it. If you can’t stop your dogs barking, you lose them.

Indeed, we may need to go further to conquer the epidemic. Just as there is pressure on governments to ban the noisiest planes and oversize cars, oughtn’t they to look at banning the most powerful sound-systems? It only seems extreme because we are not used to thinking about neighbour noise in this way.

Business as usual = acceptance the noise epidemic will continue

We can continue to kid ourselves that a complaint every 80 seconds doesn’t signal an epidemic. Or we can take the radical action required.

The pandemic lockdown emphasised the noise epidemic

Noisy neighbours have had a significant negative impact on people during lockdown (3). Consumer omnibus research conducted by Opinium showed nearly half (24 million) of Britons believed neighbours’ antisocial noise has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing during the first lockdown.

What further evidence are we waiting for?

References: (1). Freedom of information Act request issued to all UK councils on 24th January 2020. A total of 313 out of 382 local councils (81.9%) responded, of which 297 (77.7%) provided usable data. The councils that provided usable data accounted for 80.1% of the UK population. (2). A noise abatement notice is an official notice2 given by a council to those responsible for causing a disturbance, telling them to either stop the activity or limit it to certain times to avoid causing a nuisance. (3). Consumer omnibus research conducted by Opinium between 29th May and 2nd June 2020. A nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults were polled, of which 914 stated that neighbour noise of some form had had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing

More detail:

Crack down on noise offenders!


Around 6 million people are extremely bothered by neighbour noise in the UK.  According to Government figures, 11% of people are extremely disturbed by neighbour noise in the UK, with 54% bothered to some extent (1).

And the least well-off can suffer the most. Just 7% of people living in a detached house or bungalow are annoyed by noise from their neighbours. This rises to 23% of those living in a medium/high rise flat.

Although there is legislation in place that there wasn't 30 years ago, its implementation is still patchy, resulting in far too many people living with a neighbour noise problem.

It’s time to get consistently tough on noise offenders.  It is time for the Government, the Police and all local authorities to find the resources and the willpower to deal effectively with neighbour noise.

The legislation exists (2):

The Environmental Protection Act 1980

The Noise Act 1996

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

There has been a clampdown in smoking in most public venues so we don't inhale other people's smoke.  The same tough attitude needs to be taken towards other people's noise.

An Independent Appeals Panel needs to be set up for noise sufferers who believe the authorities haven't done their job effectively.

Homes need to be properly insulated.  Exact figures are hard to come by but research carried out some years ago by the UK Noise Association estimated that at least 2.5 million people live in homes with poor sound insulation (3).  

For assistance with individual noise problems:

Noise Abatement Society: provides a noise helpline: 01273 823850  

Noise Nuisance:   Assists people with neighbour and neighbourhood noise problems


(1).National Noise Attitude Survey 2012 

(2). Go to where Emeritus Professor Francis McManus, a leading expert on noise law, outlines key legal judgements

(3). A Sound Solution, UK Noise Association, (2002)



I want my fireworks silent

by Caitlin Moran: reprinted from the Times 31/10/20

The bangs make them more exciting? Yes, but so would cocaine.

There are several things that we think of as “totally normal” that, did they not already exist, we would never invent now. Pudding, for instance. Pudding is berserk. You eat a whole meal of meat, and then another whole meal of cake? That’s too much. Why not keep going and have a third meal of ham, and then a fourth of beans? You’re already being ludicrous. No one would invent “Second Lunch: Cake” now. It’s a mad remnant of the past. Likewise, ties. They’re basically a chest pelmet, to cover up the buttons on your shirt. What mad, prudish era did we have to live through when buttons needed a petticoat to cover them? And why are we still doing it? And so it is with fireworks. Or, more specifically, the BANG in fireworks. We’re currently at the beginning of Fireworks Season – these days, it starts around Halloween, continues over both weekends around Bonfire Night and then redoubles at Diwali and New Year’s Eve.

As has been pointed out for many, many years, Fireworks Season is a nightmarish time for people with dogs, small children and those who were in the military or have PTSD. And no wonder – at any time between sundown and 1am, any night of Fireworks Season can suddenly erupt into what sounds like the Valentine’s Day Massacre or a small war. Last year, our dog was so scared that she would climb up inside my jumper and stay there all evening, shaking uncontrollably and crying actual dog tears. In the end, I had to hold my hands over her ears and sing to her. No dog wants that.

In a way, it’s weird we’re not all freaked out by fireworks: after all, there are no other instances in life where hearing a series of loud explosions is good. Unless you’re a former gold prospector with a very specific backstory about dynamiting Last Chance Gulch in 1879 and subsequently finding the mother lode, whenever humans hear a “BANG!” it tends to mean “visits to A&E”, “dealing with a lot of rubble” and “wondering where your leg has gone”. It never bodes well.

'Last year, our dog was so scared that she would climb up inside my jumper and stay there all evening, shaking uncontrollably and crying actual dog tears. In the end, I had to hold my hands over her ears and sing to her. No dog wants that.'

Why, in 2020, do fireworks still have a “bang”? We wouldn’t invent them like that now. If someone had only just devised a way to light up the sky with vast, phosphorescent chrysanthemums, everyone would be like, “Cor, this is gorgeous! You have turned the heavens into a celestial city of ecstatic sparks! Well done, you, Edward Firework!” But if Edward Firework then went on to explain that this transcendent manmade aurora borealis came with the mandatory accompaniment of, essentially, the first 23 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, everyone would be like, “No. Just… don’t. Why ruin it?” And indeed, why? Making beautiful fireworks go “bang” is genuinely demented – like inventing fairy lights that scream, or balloon animals that emit a low, tortured groan of, “I’m dying.”

No other beautiful, visual thing we’ve invented is accompanied by abhorrent noises: the Louvre doesn’t insist the Mona Lisa be displayed in a room that permanently plays We Like to Party! by Vengaboys; Sissinghurst doesn’t have a resident banshee in a gazebo; St Paul’s doesn’t repeatedly retch. I’m trying to work through every possible reason to keep the BANG in fireworks, but it’s proving pretty easy to dismiss them all. “People might not notice the fireworks are going off if they’re not accompanied by a BANG!” Just… pointing could work? Also: THE SKY IS “The bang makes it more exciting!” Yes, but so would cocaine, and we don’t include that in the box. Those who would like a bang are more than welcome to pop on their headphones and download the audio of chimney stacks being demolished, or people dynamiting dead whales on beaches. It could be like silent disco. Or, here’s an idea, instead of a bang you could have something genuinely exciting, like John Lennon screaming Twist and Shout, Kate Bush singing Wow, or Han Solo shouting, “Hit it, Chewie!” And presumably it would be cheaper to make fireworks that didn’t have a cannon attached, which highlights the class element to this. Basically, the only way to let off noisy fireworks without massively inconveniencing hundreds of other people and their pets is if you live on a vast estate and can pay your butler to take your dogs somewhere quiet for the night. For everyone else – with neighbours, a social conscience and a limited budget – much cheaper, silent fireworks are A Thing That Needs Inventing As Soon As Possible.

As things stand, however, I’m bracing myself to spend the next two weeks with a cockapoo up my jumper, to whom I will sing that perennial Prince classic about Fireworks Season: When Dogs Cry. 

Why all noise officers should be over 60!


Over 60s only need apply!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like young people. They are fitter, better looking and more energetic than me. But they shouldn’t be noise enforcement officers. They don’t ‘get’ noise. Some of them might but I’m not willing to take the risk. It’s a blanket ban! It’s a job that should be reserved for us over-60s.

How many youngsters really understand that noise can be a torment? Noise they don’t even notice or, indeed, can cause. We were privileged to grow up in an era when pubs, shops and cafes didn’t play background music….at all; when the rare busker just strummed her guitar; when the streets were for playing on and an aircraft in the sky was as rare as Haleys Comet; when there were no announcements on buses, tubes or trains – that’s right, none at all; when the pubs shut at 11pm and the night economy was a midnight burger at Wimpeys; when we turned on transistors, not sound systems; and when Lulu’s Boom-Bang-a-Bang rarely registered a noise complaint.

Now don’t me wrong. We realize – sometimes regretfully, I admit it – that world has gone. And most of us have had children who have grown up in a very different world. And we love our grandchildren – particularly when they fix our smart phones and sort out our computers! My point is this. We understand the world they grew up in. There’s no reason for them to understand the world we grew up in. And, without that understanding, I’m not sure they really can appreciate how utterly traumatic noise can be. And for those of you that do, I apologise. My job can be yours when you reach 60!

'The Whisperer'