The Good Oil: Excessive noise

chainsawlMichael lives on a one-acre block and has a neighbour who processes firewood for charity.

Trouble is, he does it about 200 metres away from Michael's house.

"He runs chainsaws every Wednesday and Saturday through the summer months for most of the day. Is there anything I can do about this, as the noise is excessive and is driving us to the point of selling?"

The neighbour, when approached, says he has no intention of stopping.

There are two paths Michael can go down. The first is to try to get on-side with Mr Firewood.

I spoke with two former social workers of my acquaintance, who both felt problems like this can be solved with words.

"Ring one of the social services agencies in the local community and try to find an amicable solution. Consider asking to meet with him, and have a mediator present. If he is elderly, it's more than likely this will stop sooner rather than later - chainsawing being physically demanding."

The other approach is to call the council and possibly file a complaint.

What is excessive noise?

Excessive noise is defined as noise that is under human control and is of such a nature to unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort, and convenience of any person other than a person who is in or at the place from which the noise is being emitted.

What are the regulations?

The legislation around noise is contained within the Resource Management Act 1991. It is administered by district councils. District Plans produced by the various councils normally contain noise limits for activities carried out on land. The noise provisions in the RMA are national laws, although how they are administered may differ between councils.

Nath Pritchard, general manager regulatory at Waikato District Council, in whose region Michael lives, says that the council does set noise limits for rural areas. These limits exclude farming noise and forestry harvesting.

I asked if there was a difference between rural and urban situations and he said there was no real difference: "The general principle of unreasonable interference applies to both. However there may be some differences particularly relating to normal farming activities in rural areas that are noisy and are to be expected in the area."

The heart of the matter

This is possibly a useful point that Michael could focus on - one could argue that processing firewood for a charity group is not a normal farming activity. It is not unusual for farmers to chainsaw firewood for themselves and family, but not on such a regular and sustained level.

Michael has had conflicting advice from the council. "The first person I spoke to indicated that a licence (consent) would be necessary for this type of activity but when I spoke to another... after he had visited the property he said there was absolutely no issues with what he was doing and reminded me that there was no noise restrictions in the rural sector."

Clearly, there are noise restrictions in the rural sector, certainly in the Waikato. (However, this is not the case for those in the former Franklin area.)

Annually, more than 1000 complaints are received by the Waikato Council - that's about 20 a week. The most common relate to stereos, especially in the weekend. These are dealt with under the excessive noise provisions of the Resource Management Act.

Section 16 of the Act contains a general duty for occupiers of land to adopt the best practicable option to ensure the emission of noise doesn't exceed a reasonable level.

Sections 326 - 328 deal with excessive noise, defined above. Generally, Mr Pritchard says, these cover the one-off 'nuisance' type noise activities.

Ongoing activities, as in this case, are considered in terms of the district plan rules, resource consents and section 16.

"These types of activities will usually require some monitoring and measurement to determine the level of noise being produced and an assessment against the specified standard. Sometimes there may be some overlap of the provisions that may be used, for example, excessive noise provisions for an ongoing activity, but these situations are not usually clear cut."

He said that the council is the appropriate agency to deal with the issue, and normally an assessment would be carried out. Various enforcement provisions are in place for offences, including seizure of equipment, abatement and infringement notices and prosecution.

The first step for anyone with a noise problem is to contact their local council and register a noise complaint - "Or if they wish to discuss an issue they can contact the council's environmental health manager."

At such a meeting noise control officers may attend and this may be followed with an assessment.

Conclusion

Information on Waikato District Council’s noise control policies can be found here. Factors which may be taken into account when assessing whether noise is unreasonable include:

  • The activity producing the noise
  • The location of the noise source
  • Time of day or night
  • Duration of the noise
  • Noise history – have there been repeat situations
  • Noise level
  • Potential to stop the noise
  • Special audible characteristics

Several of these would seem relevant to Michael’s case, particularly the fact that the noise is of long duration and regularly repeated, also that the activity producing the noise would not be considered part of normal farming operations. The council does say, however, that a key point in the definition of excessive noise is the term ‘unreasonably interferes’. This implies that noise can cause ‘reasonable’ interference. Further, the noise control officer’s assessment is subjective and no noise measurements have to be taken.

Sadly, says Nath Pritchard, these cases often don’t end happily. “It is more likely than not that one party will not be satisfied, either the complainant or the noise producer.”

 

 

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