Noise emission limits imposed on Occold Village Hall

The request was partially successful.

'Andy' Andrews

Dear Mid Suffolk District Council,
could you please confirm the reference standards or criteria by which the 38dBA and 42dBA noise emission limits being imposed on Occold Village Hall were arrived at.

I would be most grateful if this information could be supplied before the open meeting being called by Occold Parish Council (with MSDC representation) later this month.
Yours faithfully,

'Andy' Andrews
Occold

Valerie Coe, Mid Suffolk District Council

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request below. As you may be aware the Act allows up to 20 working days for response giving a deadline of 6 July. I will of course reply sooner if possible.

Regards

Val Coe
Freedom of Information Officer
Mid Suffolk District Council
131 High Street
Needham Market
IP6 8DL

Telephone: 01449 724673
E-mail: [email address]

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'Andy' Andrews

Dear Valerie Coe,

Thank you for your acknowledgement of the 9th June 2010:
“Thank you for your Freedom of Information request below. As you may be aware the Act allows up to 20 working days for response giving a deadline of 6 July. I will of course reply sooner if possible.”

I am informed that a public meeting on these issues is scheduled for the 28th June 2010. Chaired by our County Councillor. I trust that if this information is not available for this FOI request before that time it will also not be available to Philip Isbell, Sue Herne and whoever is representing the Licensing Authority at the meeting.

Yours sincerely,

'Andy' Andrews

Valerie Coe, Mid Suffolk District Council

Dear Mr Andrews

Further to your Freedom of Information request below I have now received the following response from the relevant department:

Having looked at the comments made by the Environmnetal Health Officer consulted on the planning application there are no details of the standards he used when recommending the condition applied at that time. However, the noise levels on the planning application would have been set againast the daytime and evening background levels for the site of the village hall, and would have taken into account the close proximirty of a number of residential dwellings.

The following were the comments sent to the Planning Officer at the time that the application for the new hall was made:-

Thank you for your consultation concerning the above mentioned proposal.

I have no objections, in principle, to the development. However I am concerned that any noise generated on the site does not adversely impact on the neighbourhood particularly from functions late at night.

In order to control such interference with the local residential amenity I recommend the following conditions:-

1) The level of noise emitted from the site shall not exceed 42dBLaeq 30 minutes between 08:00 hours and 21:00 hours and 38dBLaeq 5 minutes at any other time as measured on the site boundary adjacent to the nearest noise sensitive property

2) The external windows of the function rooms shall be fitted with acoustic double glazing coupled with acoustically designed and treated mechanical ventilation before the village hall is first brought into use and shall be retained thereafter.

Reason: To protect the local residential amenity from the impact of noise.

I am sorry that there is no further information that I can give you in relation to this request.

If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled you may ask for an internal review. Please contact me at the address below if you wish to request a review. If you are not happy with the outcome of the internal review you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5AF

Val Coe
Freedom of Information Officer
Mid Suffolk District Council
131 High Street
Needham Market
IP6 8DL

Telephone: 01449 724673
E-mail: [email address]

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'Andy' Andrews

Dear Valerie Coe,

Thank you for the above reply.

As you can see it does not address the specific question:

“… reference standards or criteria by which the 38dBA and 42dBA noise emission limits being imposed on Occold Village Hall were arrived at"

I would have thought that the identity of the standard/guideline/code of practice/s being used to establish and measure noise limits would be ready to hand. Or are the limits and procedures being 'plucked out of the ether'?

I suspect that guidance intended for industrial/commercial/urban noise and noisy neighbours/anti-social behaviour is being applied in a totally inappropriate way to occasional, traditional, socially desirable rural activities.

In particular I doubt the validity of the procedures being applied to the question of background noise and hence the noise that can be directly attributed to the event in question, rather than noise that can be attributed to the house itself and its surroundings. This interpretation has possible damaging ramifications for all rural areas. But due to the reluctance to reveal details of the methods being applied by EH, a user of the hall cannot know how they will be judged.

I would have thought that this should be readily available given that Environmental Health effectively act as 'law maker' (the 1990 Act is very vague and the planning department invariably accept EH advice), prosecution, judge, jury and policeman under these draconian powers. This may be a single officer. It leaves decent members of the public, doing the voluntary community work they have done for years unhindered, with no redress short of expensive recourse to law. The very thing these powers were intended to replace.

Any QA professional would be concerned at the following sentence “However, the noise levels on the planning application would have been set againast the daytime and evening background levels for the site of the village hall, ….” This means that either they don’t know what they did and/or that they kept no record of this potentially litigious process.

However, this is now out of time for the users of the hall and as I do not wish to cause any further expense on the public purse, I do not seek any further action.

Yours sincerely,

'Andy' Andrews

Valerie Coe, Mid Suffolk District Council

Dear Mr Andrews

Thank you for your e-mail below and I am sorry you find the response to your request inadequate.

I am afraid the Environmental Health Officer who deals with noise issues is on leave today but I have passed your comments to the Lead Officer and I believe they will respond directly to you next week.

I note your comments re not wishing to cause further expense but if you are still dissatisfied it is your right to request an independent senior officer to carry out a review. If you do wish to follow this course of action please let me know.

Regards

Val Coe
Freedom of Information Officer
Mid Suffolk District Council
131 High Street
Needham Market
IP6 8DL

Telephone: 01449 724673
E-mail: [email address]

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'Andy' Andrews

Dear Valerie Coe,
Thank you for pointing out my right to request a review of the response given to my FOI request. I believe, however, that my right to know what is being done in my name and in this case what I am permitted to do, should be matched by my responsibility not to waste the resources of public services. It is this culture of “complain & claim” that is causing so much social damage including the stopping of community activities in Occold.

An email received yesterday from the EHO and the briefings given by MSDC officers to an overflowing open meeting in Occold last night, confirm my worst fears.

The FOI reply was basically accurate and the officers do not know how they arrived at these figures and have no records to sustain them.

Further that these figures are, in respect to those of us running non-profit community activities, irrelevant in that a single officer acting on the assertions of a single complainant has made a subjective snap-judgement which turned an annoyance into a statutory noise nuisance before she had “even unpacked the noise meter”.

The fact that a user had complied with the planning noise requirements and intended no nuisance would be no defence.

These powers were given to local officers in order that the problems of noisy neighbours and commercial undertakings in populated neighbourhoods could be dealt with simply and without recourse to law. They have recently been applied in such a high-handed and inappropriate way that rural community volunteers have been forced to recourse to law for their own protection.

I am appalled at this travesty of justice and democracy, and the inefficiency and selectivity of evidence that under-pins it, but it does mean that the FOI reply was reasonably accurate.

I believe MSDC need to urgently take this rural noise issue on board at a higher (political?) level. To break this power of veto over traditional village life. It has likely ramifications right across rural Mid Suffolk and beyond.

Yours sincerely,

'Andy' Andrews

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