Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Noise Control Regulation Review
Noise Policy Section
Department of Environment and Climate Change
PO Box A290
South Sydney NSW 1232
I write to make recommendations on the draft Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2000 to reduce noise impacts for inner city residents. I believe that all residents have the right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes and I strongly support updating the Noise Control Regulation.
Noise affects quality of life and health, and can contribute to hearing loss or life threatening health problems such as cardio-vascular disease and suppressed immune systems. These serious impacts are generally related to stress, sleep disturbance and sleep deprivation.
Noise pollution is a significant problem in many parts of the inner city, where high density development results in a large amount and diversity of activity in close proximity. Where these activities are not sensitively and appropriately managed, the cumulative noise impacts affect a disproportionately large number of people. Some city residents currently experience significant and prolonged exposure to intrusive noise from vehicles, construction, neighbours, business operations, entertainment activities, helicopter and/or jet aircraft noise.
The Sydney electorate also includes late night and 24-hour entertainment precincts that have a concentration of licensed premises, including Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross; Oxford Street/Taylor Square in Darlinghurst; George Street in the CBD; the Moore Park Entertainment Quarter; and The Rocks. Large numbers of tourists and visitors from across Sydney are drawn to these precincts, with the associated noise impacts often compounded by the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. Many residents are concerned that some entertainment precincts are at saturation, with unsustainable cumulative impacts and a lack of effective controls to protect people living in adjacent densely populated residential areas.
Given the increased housing density required by the State Government Metropolitan Strategy, there is an increased need for associated State action to manage the impacts of high density living and ensure a long-term sustainable living environment.
While the Noise Control Regulation only deals with some noise sources, it needs to achieve improvements for the specific problems experienced in densely populated inner city areas. While the draft Regulation provides benefit in some areas; further improvement is needed to ensure strengthened prevention and enforcement.
Noise regulation is currently enforced primarily by councils and police. The draft Noise Control Regulation assumes that this regime will continue. However, many residents believe that the existing system is not working and does not result in effective warnings, enforcement or real change. There is a strong sense among affected residents that the process, at best, achieves repeated warnings but no satisfactory outcome.
Noise issues can take up a significant proportion of councils' time. While the City of Sydney has increased compliance resources in recent years, local councils generally do not have funds to significantly increase staffing. Council rangers and police also have broader priorities, and police are routinely stretched focusing on serious crime problems.
Authority for action is also spread across a wide range of local, state and even federal agencies, leading to diffused responsibility and “buck passing”. While the draft Noise Control Regulation covers only a limited range of noise sources and problems, residents are normally driven to action and frustration as a result of the cumulative noise impacts.
I support the aim of the draft Regulation identified in the draft Regulatory Impact Statement to streamline current regulation and reduce the administrative demands on councils, however the level of State resources and focus is also a critical issue. The Department of Climate Change and Environment needs to review the current regime with consideration of strategies such as central coordination, liaison, funding, education, complaints management, investigation, enforcement, prevention and alternative dispute resolution.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment review the current enforcement regime and consider increased State resources to achieve the aims of the Noise Control Regulation and the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
A particular long-standing problem in the Sydney electorate is the congregation of car enthusiasts in Hickson Road at the Rocks/Millers Point and Cowper Wharf Road in Woolloomooloo. There are similar problems in other entertainment precincts related to the late night circulation of vehicles, often with deliberately increased vehicle noise.
I strongly support the proposed new restrictions on the sale and use of motor vehicles with temporary noise control equipment, which can conceal the noise a vehicle normally emits and is deliberately intended to circumvent testing. This will ensure noise tests assess actual noise generation rather than a level purposely adjusted to pass the test.
I recommend that the Noise Control Regulation prohibit the sale and use of motor vehicles with only temporary noise control equipment.
Inner city residents also regularly contact my office about unacceptably loud music from car sound systems late at night. Large numbers of people can suffer the impacts of loud music in densely populated inner city precincts where some motorists congregate, such as Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and The Rocks.
The Noise Control Regulation prohibits offensive noise from sound systems in vehicles. However, the current regulations have failed to protect inner city residents and I am concerned that there is no proposed improvement. Residents are too often told that the unacceptable noise is within the guidelines or it is unenforceable.
The Department of Climate Change and Environment should increase resources for enforcement of controls for motor vehicle noise, including noise from sound systems. Police generally need to focus on more serious crime problems and cannot give priority to music in motor vehicles. Where problems are significant or entrenched, the Department needs the resources to assist joint operations with the Police and local council.
The problems also need to be addressed at the point of sale through stronger controls for sound systems in motor vehicles, such as restricting the sale of sound systems that are able to reach excessive volumes and have the potential to emit offensive noise.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment increase noise enforcement of motor vehicles and strengthen the Noise Control Regulation to prevent offensive noise from sound systems in motor vehicles.
While technology in newer buses has reduced noise, much of the existing vehicle stock has significant noise impacts in narrow local residential streets that were not designed for motor vehicle traffic. The problem is compounded in areas where houses and apartments are built directly on the footpath, within metres of the road carriageway. The impacts are particularly significant at night.
While the Minister for Transport has told me that all State Transit Authority buses comply with noise emission restrictions, I am concerned about these impacts. This appears to be a particular example where the current noise standards are not sufficient to ensure reasonable outcomes, with affected residents told that unacceptable noise is “within the guidelines”.
The Department of Climate Change and Environment should investigate stronger controls on noise from buses in residential areas, particularly at night.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment strengthen the noise restrictions on buses in dense residential streets.
Current penalties for noise from alarms do not increase until alarms have been sounding for at least 24 hours. This fails to reflect the potential disturbance suffered by people, particularly in dense inner city areas where hundreds of residents can be affected.
I support the proposed significant reduction in the time period where an intruder alarm can be going off before a penalty applies and the increase in penalties where alarms continue to operate beyond the time limit.
However, I am concerned that there are no provisions to warn owners before they incur a penalty. In particular, owners of unattended vehicles may be charged the maximum penalty when the owner is unaware that the alarm has sounded continuously.
I recommend that:
the Noise Control Regulation adopt the proposed time limits for which intruder alarm penalties increase;
the Department of Climate Change and Environment investigate safeguards to ensure that the changes do not result in punitive fines for owners who are not aware that their alarm is faulty.
Many inner city residents live close to restaurants, cafés, clubs and pubs where frequent garbage and recycling collections occur at night or very early in the morning. Noise from trucks and associated activities such as smashing glasses can disturb sleep for many residents living in built up areas.
The City of Sydney has developed a Local Approvals Policy for Waste Management in Public Places which includes preventive mechanisms within the City’s authority to minimise noise. Central strategies are restriction on collection hours in residential areas and enforcement of state noise regulation. The proposed Regulation provides little improved protection from mobile garbage compactor noise. Noise from waste collection is not covered by controls for motor vehicle accessories and the noise from truck movements does not appear to breach prescribed noise level restrictions, despite its impact.
The Regulation addresses noise from trucks fitted with refrigeration units and restricts their use where noise from the unit can be heard within residential habitable rooms late at night. Similar controls for mobile garbage compactors should be considered to reduce noise disturbance while ensuring garbage collections can be carried out.
Recently developed equipment that crushes glass bottles within small onsite compactors has the potential to dramatically reduce the noise impacts of inner city businesses. The Department of Climate Change and Environment should investigate and promote new technologies that will help prevent noise from waste collection.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment develop improved controls for mobile garbage compactors that balance the noise impacts with the need to provide waste collection.
I regularly receive complaints from residents about the impacts of leaf blowers. I share their concerns that these machines are noisy, wasteful of energy, and simply distribute waste materials to another area unless there is also some form of collection.
One constituent tells me that a leaf blower used on and around an adjacent property disturbs his sleep every morning. He reports that the noise is distressing and I note that the Regulatory Impact Statement acknowledges a “shrill tonal” noise from leaf blowers that can cause disturbance beyond noise levels alone.
Given the potential for “shrill tonal” noise from leaf blowers, I am concerned that the proposed Noise Control Regulation does not alter the times when a leaf blower should not be audible in neighbours’ residences. Current restrictions allow the use of leaf blowers from 7.00am weekdays and Saturdays however my constituent believes that given their noise impact, 8.00am would be more appropriate. The City of Sydney limits its own use of leaf blowers from 9.00am to 5.00pm and we have commenced replacing existing blowers with quieter models.
The Regulatory Impact Statement indicates that the current time limits are proposed to be retained because there are new leaf blowers on the market that do not emit “shrill tonal” noise, however there are no noise-labelling requirements proposed for leaf blowers.
While the Regulatory Impact Statement proposes that a national approach to labelling is appropriate, in the absence of a labelling system consumers will not necessarily be aware whether a leaf blower has noise reduction features and there is no requirement for people to purchase low noise leaf blowers. The Department of Climate Change and the Environment needs to take a leadership role in achieving a national scheme and pursue State action in the absence of a national approach.
I recommend that the Noise Control Regulation:
Tighten the time restrictions prohibiting the use of leaf blowers in the morning by restricting their use before 8.00am on weekdays and Saturdays.
Introduce a system of labelling requirements for the sale of leaf blowers and introduce restrictions on models that exceed specified noise levels.
The Sydney electorate is densely populated and many residents live in multi-level units where sound travels from apartment to apartment. I have previously made submissions to the Australian Building Codes Board to improve sound insulation provisions in the Building Code of Australia. While some improvements have been introduced for new buildings, many older apartment buildings have limited acoustic separation.
It is important that the Regulation achieves a balance between protecting quiet enjoyment and allowing apartment residents to live in their homes as they choose. The proposed regulation could prevent people watching television or listening to music after 10.00pm because it is audible in a neighbour’s home. This could be a particular problem for people who work long hours or do shift work, and do not get the opportunity to be at home and relax until after 10.00pm.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment review the proposed time restriction for which musical instruments and sound equipment can be heard from adjacent habitable rooms on weeknights.
The Noise Control Regulation also needs to include new controls for low frequency noise from sound systems, a particular form of intrusive and annoying noise. It is currently difficult for Councils or police to respond to these concerns, as it is difficult to measure and assess the impacts of low frequency noise, and commonly used noise standards are not helpful.
One of my constituents tells me that she suffered from the impacts of “sub woofer” speakers in neighbouring apartments. She says the low frequency noise caused vibrations and sensations within her body beyond the noise levels themselves, and that she suffered a series of associated health concerns including heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting, and inflammation of skin and other organs. I understand that the problem was only resolved when the neighbouring tenants moved out of their rented accommodation. My constituent tells me that she won a court case on this matter, the outcome of which she says should be used as a model for stronger controls in the Noise Control Regulation.
In response to a previous request, the former Minister for the Environment told me that he would include my constituent’s concerns in the review of the Noise Control Regulation however the Regulatory Impact Statement does not indicate consideration of controls for the use of “sub woofers” in apartments.
I recommend that the Department of Climate Change and Environment investigate stricter noise controls for low frequency sound and the use of sub woofer speakers in apartment buildings.
There is increasing pressure to develop Sydney Harbour, with expanded marinas, and more and larger marine vessels closer to residential dwellings and foreshore open space. Expanded development is increasing the potential for noise impacts along the Harbour and I believe that stronger controls are needed.
Entertainment-related marine vessels including party cruise boats, may emit very high noise levels from sound systems. Current restrictions that disallow noise from sound systems on vessels in habitable rooms are difficult to enforce due to the mobility of vessels and the difficulty of enforcing controls at sea based on measurable criteria on land.
I strongly support proposed additional prohibitions on sound systems that emit offensive noise, as this may address enforcement difficulties and will protect harbour foreshore and parkland amenity.
Inner Sydney residents live in terrace houses and apartments with small or no outdoor space and rely on public open space for recreation. Passive recreation in foreshore parklands should not be disrupted by noise from vessels including amplified music.
Proposed prohibitions on offensive noise from sound systems on vessels will reduce noise pollution.
I recommend that the Noise Control Regulation include the proposed prohibitions on offensive noise from sound systems on marine vessels.
Jet “thrill boats” are a growing tourist industry in Sydney Harbour. Boat operators advertise that they reach speeds of 75 km an hour, and perform power brake stops and spins of 270 degrees. I share community concern that the boats are very noisy and undermine the amenity of foreshore parklands.
I am concerned that existing controls, which prohibit offensive noise emissions by marine vessels, are unchanged in the proposed Noise Control Regulation. These controls have failed to prohibit offensive noise from jet cats and protect residential and harbour amenity.
I recommend that the Noise Control Regulation include noise restrictions that prevent loud offensive noise from jet “thrill boats”.
The draft Regulation proposes removing existing provisions where an individual can give a statutory warning. The Regulatory Impact Statement argues that this provision is not effective in practice, as it may not have been issued in a clear and understandable manner.
While I acknowledge the rationale behind the change, alternative measures to provide effective and timely warnings are required as many offences in the Noise Control Regulation do not occur until an action is repeated after an initial warning. When they make complaints, residents need a guarantee that relevant authorities will issue warnings and that enforcement action can subsequently be taken.
I recommend that the Noise Control Regulation include clear provisions for Statutory Warnings from authorised officers to be mandatory when controls have been breached.
Member for Sydney