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PA podcast: Listen to licensing and gambling solicitor, Imogen Moss, discuss noise issues

Noise issues and how to avoid them

In this episode, licensing and gambling Solicitor, Imogen Moss, discusses the hot topic of noise complaints, how we first become aware of them, informal action operators can take, action that can be taken against operators and how to avoid noise complaints from happening in the first place.

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Find the transcript below:

Dominic

Hello, and welcome back to the Poppleston Allen podcast. This is where we discuss licencing topics to help you, and also me, get a better understanding of what it’s all about. Today, I’m joined by Imogen Moss, who is a licensing and gambling solicitor in our Nottingham office, and she is here today to discuss the hot topic of noise issues.

Hi Imogen, how are you today?

 

Imogen

I’m good thanks, how are you?

 

Dominic

Yeah, I’m really good. New Year, any resolutions?

 

Imogen

I’ve decided as today, the day we’re recording, is blue Monday I’m not going to make any New Year’s resolutions this year because I invariably break them, so that’s my promise to myself.

 

Dominic

Perfect, that’s very positive going into the new year.

So obviously we’re here today to talk about noise issues. With lockdowns seeming to be a thing of the past hopefully, touch wood, and venues are becoming more busy, they’re becoming more noisy, noise is becoming more of an issue. So how do we first become aware of neighbours having issues with the premises?

 

Imogen

So I think it really depends on the type of venue you’ve got. You’re certainly right that with lockdown and the various types of lockdowns we’ve had, neighbours have become used to quiet streets and by the same token, people are ready to go out and, you know, get back to normal or the new normal should I say, and there’s also been a bit of an increased use of external areas as well.

So, I suppose, thinking about what kind of noise issues people might have, so, music; DJs; live music; people leaving venues; people walking down the street to get taxis and things; noise from bins; bottle bins; lights; flood lighting; any kitchen extracts; speakers and outside areas and things like that, normally, the first way that we know about any noise complaints is things like residents complaining directly to the venue or to the company or to the manager, whoever is on duty at the time.

Sometimes they will go directly to the council. The first time you might know about any issues is if you submit some kind of application to the council, it might be a temporary event notice or variation application, and you get an objection from a resident and that might be the first time you become aware that there are any noise issues with the venue.

A resident might complain to a local councillor, or they might just become difficult. There might be instances of them going into venues and shouting at staff, or they might start recording things. So, there’s a whole variety of things you can look out for ways that you might become aware of noise issues at your venue.

 

Dominic

Yeah. So, what informal action could operators take if they come into any issues with neighbours or noise or anything like that?

 

Imogen

So, I suppose the best way to think about it first is what could happen if you have somebody come in and make a noise complaint or you become aware that there are issues with noise at your venue. So, I suppose to begin with, you could resolve matters informally. You might have some informal action taken by the local authority or formal action is taken and we can come on to that a bit later on. But essentially, I suppose, the way that you can engage with neighbours and how you initially deal with it can have all the difference. A good idea, for example, would be to try to resolve the issue amicably. Don’t ignore them. It’s not going to go away, so try and engage with them.

You can keep a diary and a detailed log of complaints and steps that you as a venue are taking. So, if there’s issues with people leaving the venue and there’s issues there, you could say, right, OK, we’ve been asking residents to leave quietly, we’ve put notices up, you know, record the actions you’re taking and when they were taken.

Make sure the neighbours know that you’re taking them seriously. Don’t turn the music up when you get a complaint. Make sure that they know that you’re taking their complaints or their issues seriously, so they feel listened to.

And I suppose one of the most important things you can do is take advice. You know, your licence could be at risk if they decide to take formal action. So, take some advice. Don’t, you know, if you’re part of a group, don’t forget to escalate complaints. Don’t forget to report back and just make sure that you are dealing with it, because if you can deal with it at this stage, it might prevent it going onto anything more.

 

Dominic

Yeah, so basically, don’t be passive aggressive with your neighbours is what you’re saying.

 

Imogen

Yeah, everybody likes to be listened to don’t they and if they know that you’re taking their issue seriously and they can see you taking positive steps, I think that can go a long way.

 

Dominic

Yeah so, what can a venue actually have in place to deal with noise issues and try and prevent noise issues happening in the first place?

 

Imogen

So, you could look at having some informal plans and policies in place so you might think about an external area management plan for example. That might include things like monitoring customers; removing litter and glass; customer management and placement; signs, signage, you know, “please keep noise down”, “respect the neighbours” or “leave the area quietly”; cleaning the area; staff training; and ensuring that there is a clear means of access; things like maintenance of plant machinery, so, you know, thinking about your extractor fans and things like that; thinking about having plans and policies in place for DJs, you know, you might want to consider briefing DJs and ensuring that they use your equipment; signs again, requesting customers to respect the residents; and essentially customer management and staff training.

You might decide to have a dispersal policy for example, and that might include things like a wind down time and again, management of customers, turning the lights up or the music down, closing the bar and using staff and door staff to advise customers to exit quietly.

 

Dominic

Yeah so, if noise complaints do escalate, what action can the local authority take against you as the premises?

 

Imogen

They might take informal action and different local authorities have different enforcement protocols. Many of them have a stepped approach to enforcement, but they are under a duty to investigate certain complaints. So informal action might be that you get a letter or a request to have a meeting, and mediation is always a good idea, but don’t expect it to be service that the local authority will offer.

If an environmental health officer receives a complaint, they do have statutory duties to investigate. And if it’s the environmental health officer that’s received the complaint, it’s not likely that the matter will go away.

There’s also formal enforcement action that can be taken, so you’ve got the premises licence review that can be bought by the environmental health, licencing, residents, or the police for example. And when your premises licence is reviewed, there’s kind of different actions that could be taken if it’s found that there is an issue and that steps need to be taken by the venue to mitigate the noise problem. So, the licencing subcommittee could look to amend your hours, permitted activities, or put conditions on the licence. They might look to reduce the hours that an outside area can be used. They could limit the capacity as well. They could look to introduce door staff for example, or they could even remove the DPS. In worst case scenario, they could suspend or revoke the licence, depending on how significant the issues are.

There’s also the potential to receive a noise abatement notice, and the penalty for this is quite significant for each breach and it is a criminal offence. And it’s with the premises forever unless it’s appealed, suspended or withdrawn. So, you can see from those types of actions that the local authority or significantly environmental health can take, it comes back down to don’t ignore a noise complaint. Don’t ignore noise issues because it can have a significant impact on your licenced premises.

 

Dominic

Yeah, so as a venue, what positive action can you take if you do get noise complaints?

 

Imogen

So, I would say, if you get noise complaints and the local authority is aware of them, so say the complaint is made known to you via the licencing department at the council or Environmental Health, liaise with the local authority. Try and work with the complainants.

You might want to look at things like instructing sound acousticians to carry out noise impact assessments. You could instruct an independent consultant to carry out a review of the operation in the area. And you could also look at some interim measures while the investigation is carried out. So, you can look at employing those informal policies and procedures that I just spoke about to try and mitigate any of the issues that the neighbours might be complaining about.

 

Dominic

Thank you for that advice Imogen and remember that licencing is never as simple as it seems, so if you want to find out more, you can head to our website at popall.co.uk or you can contact Imogen directly, which I’m sure she’ll love, at i.moss@popall.co.uk. Thank you very much for listening.

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