It was recently reported in the news that Lewisham Council had issued a Noise Abatement Notice against a resident who was practising their musical instrument at their flat.  Complaints to the council by neighbours and investigation by the Environmental Health team resulted in the musician being issued with a Noise Abatement Notice, as it was determined that the musician had committed a public nuisance by playing their instrument at home.

This reminded me of a matter we dealt with recently in relation to a licensed premises.

The premises had developed from a burger bar to a cocktail bar, and started to provide regulated entertainment in the form of recorded music in their basement following a variation of their premises licence.  The tenant in a neighbouring property three storeys above the basement had then submitted complaints to the local authority Environmental Health team in relation to the noise disturbing them.  Despite various attempts to remedy this and spending several thousand pounds, the complaints from the neighbour continued and the Local Environmental Health Department issued a noise abatement notice.

Our involvement came when the Environmental Health team decided to pursue the matter by way of a premises licence review on the basis that our client had failed to prevent public nuisance (one of the four licensing objectives), rather than pursuing our client through the Magistrates Court for breach of the abatement notice.

When the premises licence had been varied to allow the provision of regulated entertainment, the new conditions added to the premises licence only required the playing of the music to be restricted to the basement after a certain time, which had been complied with.  The Environmental Health team’s application was for a review of the permission to play recorded and amplified music at the premises as they contended they had caused a public nuisance.

Despite some sympathy from the licensing sub-committee in relation to the efforts undertaken by our client to minimise the impact of the music being played from the premises on neighbouring properties, and the fact that there had been no complaints from the tenanted properties closer to the premises, as the threshold had been satisfied for a noise abatement notice to be issued, the licensing sub-committee concluded that the threshold had been satisfied to establish there had been a public nuisance and therefore that our client had failed to comply with the licensing objectives.

The result of the licensing review was that our client’s right to play any recorded or amplified music at any time of the day was revoked.

We had not acted on the variation of the licence but, in our experience, when dealing with any licence involving increased noise levels at a premises, we seek to agree new conditions with the Licensing Authority specifying a permissible decibel level for noise audible outside of the premises. Such levels usually involve input from Environmental Health and in these circumstances may have provided our client with some protection had they been able to prove that the decibel levels outside of the premises had not exceeded those set by the licence.

That being said, the threshold for satisfying that a public nuisance has occurred in relation to noise is relatively low as it simply requires the complainant to claim that noise audible from a premises has had, or may have, an impact upon their health and enjoyment of their own property.

Had our client instructed us at the point they received the abatement notice or had they fully complied with the abatement notice, the matter would not have escalated to the stage it did where they were not only at risk of criminal proceedings but also having their premises licence reviewed.

If you are seeking a new premises licence or variation of an existing premises licence which includes the provision of regulated entertainment, we recommend you seek legal advice as to conditions that can be voluntarily offered to the Local Authority in relation to noise levels and monitoring.

Also, in the event you receive any communication from any Local Authority team regarding alleged public nuisance from your property or business premises, we recommend you seek legal advice as to what steps should be taken to avoid escalation of the matter to an abatement notice being issued or in the event you have received an abatement notice, that you speak with a solicitor to ensure your compliance with it.

For advice and representation in relation to premises licences, call our specialists at Farleys on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form and a member of the team will get in touch with you.