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When music becomes nuisance

Ad Vreeswijk

Ing. buro AV-Consulting B.V., PO Box 705, 2800 AS, Gouda, The Netherlands

avgeluid@cistron.nl Tel.: +31 182 35 23 11 Fax.: +31 182 35 47 11

1. Introduction
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Nuisance caused by music from pubs and discotheques is a well-known problem. In the past the law was rather ambiguous and led to several different interpretations. In this article these ambiguities will be discussed. When the Catering Industry Order came into force, many local authorities saw this as an opportunity to review their policies with regard to the catering industry. As a matter of fact, for many years the catering branch has been lagging in environmental ‘developments’, especially where the enforcement of noise regulations is concerned. Until quite recently catering establishments (such as pubs, discotheques etc.) came under the Environment Protection Act or under bylaws based on the Noise Nuisance Act. Pubs, community centres and pop music venues usually received a music licence based on the bylaws mentioned above. The differences in interpretation of the regulations created a rather muddled overall picture. This came to an end when the Environment Protection Act and the resulting Catering Industry Order took effect.

2. Legal framework
On the 1e of January 1993 the whole catering branch came under the Environment Protection Act. Previously this was the case for only 50% of catering establishments. There is a legal distinction between establishments with mandatory licences, and those that are obliged to report to the local authorities. Among the latter are regular pubs, also referred to as ‘silent catering’. The silent catering industry has to report to the local authorities or to the Environment Office. In most cases, an acoustic report has to be submitted to show that an establishment conforms to noise requirements, or that certain measures are being taken in order to conform to noise requirements. Experience shows that at least 85 % of publicans state on the form that their pubs do not produce indoor music that exceeds 70 dB(A), whereas in practice considerably higher noise levels are being found.

3. Off-the-peg or tailor-made
Establishments with an obligation to report are supposed to comply with general rules as laid down in the Catering Industry Order. No licences are issued to these establishments. A licence is tailor-made, whereas an establishment with an obligation to report has to comply with general rules. As far as noise regulations are concerned, in practice the differences are nil. Noisy establishments, such as discotheques and venues for parties, must have mandatory licences, which means a tailor-made approach. A report by the Public Health Inspectorate shows that as far as noise regulations are concerned, this tailor-made approach leaves a lot to be desired. Experience shows that many publicans have taken hardly any soundproofing measures for their premises. The difference between establishments with mandatory licences (under the Environment Protection Act) and those with an obligation to report (under the Catering Industry Regulations) is not quite clear yet, it is actually decided by the character of the establishment, i.e. noisy catering establishments have to apply for a licence, whereas for quiet catering establishments it is sufficient to report. A few municipalities have already invested in the investigation of all catering establishments in their areas by external acoustic consultancies.The results are far from reassuring. Due to limited soundproofing provisions of the premises at least 85% of existing catering establishments cannot comply with the requirements.

4. Noise Regulations
In principle the starting points on which noise requirements are based are the same for establishments with mandatory licences and for those with an obligation to report: an establishment is not allowed to cause nuisance to neighbours. Starting point is the current reference level of ambient noise. This level has been defined as the highest value of: 1) The L95 of ambient noise.

2) The LAeq,traffic minus 10 dB(A). For adjoining houses the rule applies that within the adjoining house the noise level should not exceed: LAeq = 35 dB(A) from 7 am to 7 pm; LAeq = 30 dB(A) from 7 pm to 11 pm; LAeq = 25 dB(A) from 11 pm to 7 am. It should be noted that during noise level checks of catering establishments noise recognisably caused by music is ‘punished’ with 10 dB. This is due to the dynamics of music as well as to the tonal and intermittent character of music. In 1994 regulations were drawn up which allow for the occasional exemption from noise requirements for the performance of live music. These are the so-called 12-day regulations, which are part of the police bylaw. In these regulations it is assumed that, under certain conditions, a catering entrepreneur will be exempted from the relevant noise requirements 12 times a year at most. Local councils lay down in the police bylaw on which days the noise regulations for the catering industry do not apply. These are usually a number of collective days, appointed in advance by the local council, and some ‘free’ days. This makes it possible for a catering entrepreneur to organise a number of annual events (with live music) apart from the appointed days, such as during a jazz festival or carnival. In such cases exemption from the noise requirements is granted.

5. Starting points
As a starting point for the decision whether a publican should submit an acoustic report when he reports to the Catering Industry Regulations Board or applies for a licence, the noise level within his establishment is of importance. The utilisation of the establishment is the determining factor. An indication of the noise levels to be expected in catering establishments is given in
table 1.

Table 1: Noise levels in catering establishments.

Type of establishment

Equivalent noise level

Restaurants

70 – 75 dB(A)

Quiet pub or bar

75 – 80 dB(A)

Bar or pub with jukebox

80 – 85 dB(A)

Youth pub or bar

85 – 95 dB(A)

Bar or pub with dance floor

90 – 100 dB(A)

Discotheques

90 – 105 dB(A)

Discotheques with live music

95 – 115 dB(A)

6. Noise-damping provisions
In my view the standard measures each catering entrepreneur ought to take for his premises are among other things: 1) A sound sluice near the entrance. 2) Acoustic double-glazing. 3) Silencers on ventilators. In case of adjoining houses this set of measures should obviously be more extensive. Besides the noise level inside the establishment, the sound spectrum is important with regard to the measures that will have to be taken. In many cases calculations are based on the ‘standard pop music spectrum’ or standard house music spectrum. Table 2 presents a survey of both spectra.

Table 2: Survey of the standard music spectra (Ci = adjustment value)

Octave’s

63

125

250

500

1k

2k

4k

Ci Pop

-27

-14

-9

-6

-5

-6

-10

Ci House

-22

-8

-8

-7

-8

-8

-8

The importance of the application of the correct sound spectrum is shown in tables 3a and 3b. With a constant noise level within the catering establishment, exceeding the noise limits will be 4 dB(A) higher in case of house music.

Table 3a: Noise calculation using the standard spectra for pop music.

Indoor pop music Discotheque “no limits” LAeq =95 dB(A)
Oct. bands

63

125

250

500

1k

2k

4k

Hz
Reference

95

95

95

95

95

95

95

Ci-popmusic

-27

-14

-9

-6

-5

-6

-10

Emission

68

81

86

89

90

89

85

dB(A)
Dnt

42

57

65

72

73

72

71

dB
LAeq,immission

26

24

21

17

17

17

14

dB(A)
LAeq,popmusic 30 dB(A) Place à Outer wall house no. 5
Assessment level (40-10) = 30 dB(A) Exceeding : 0 dB(A)

Table 3b: Noise calculation using the standard spectra for house music.

Indoor House music Discotheque “no limits” LAeq =95 dB(A)
Oct. bands

63

125

250

500

1k

2k

4k

Hz
Reference

95

95

95

95

95

95

95

Ci-housemusic

-22

-8

-8

-7

-8

-8

-8

Emission

73

87

87

88

87

87

87

dB(A)
Dnt

42

57

65

72

73

72

71

dB
LAeq,immission

31

30

22

16

14

15

16

dB(A)
LAeq,housemusic

34 dB(A)

Place à Outer wall house no. 5
Assessment level (40-10) = 30 dB(A) Exceeding : 4 dB(A)

On the whole acoustic reports about catering establishments are rather concise, with general descriptions of provisions. In my view these concise descriptions of soundproofing provisions are among the reasons why in practice the ‘calculated’ soundproofing values are not achieved.

7. Enforcement of noise regulations
As a rule regulations are only enforced in case of regular complaints about noise nuisance. In practice this obviously encourages intimidation. A report by the Regional Environment Inspectorate shows that 35 % of people who suffer from nuisance caused by big catering establishments do not any longer report to the local authorities or the police, because it is to no avail at all. This has now come to an end. More and more frequently local authorities follow a two-track policy in their fight against environmental offences. In practice this means that establishments will face administrative enforcement as well as criminal law.

In practice this appears to be a very efficient and fast instrument in dealing with notorious offenders. This kind of approach also has a preventive effect. Apparently an official report makes a greater impression on the average catering entrepreneur than for instance imposing a penalty.

8. conclusion
Summing up I am of the opinion that placing the catering branch under the Environment Protection Act is to the benefit of local authorities, citizens and catering entrepreneurs. For practical reasons I am of the opinion that the present reference level (L95) as a criterion for noise regulations that apply outside the outer walls of third parties should be abandoned for catering establishments. In my opinion using this statistic quantity gives a mere semblance of precision. In view of the element of ‘punishment’ for noise by music, and for reasons of simplicity and non-ambiguity, it is my opinion that a value of LAeq,day = 50 dB(A), LAeq,evening = 45 dB(A) en LAeq,night = 40 dB(A) for establishments that are obliged to report, is justifiable. The issues mentioned have come up for discussion during the evaluation of the Catering Industry Regulations. In 1998 approximately 66.000 catering establishments in the Netherlands will resort under the Catering Industry Order. Roughly 4000 establishments will need mandatory licences. The enforcement of noise regulations by administrative enforcement and criminal law has been very effective and has a preventive effect.