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Focus: complaints related to noise (neighbourhood noise, classified installations)
Two thirds of the complaints relating to noise dealt with by Brussels Environment in 2014 were related to neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations. For grievances of this nature, the source of noise nuisance for which Brussels inhabitants complain the most is behaviour inside the house. This is followed by the playing of music and HVAC installations in the Horeca sector. The evolution between 2005 and 2014 is marked by a significant downward trend of complaints in the housing sector, of complaints related to behaviour, and a noticeable downward trend for complaints related to HVAC installations.
Noise is a major concern for Brussels inhabitants. It is cited as being one of the three major sources of environmental nuisance: 50% of Brussels inhabitants believe that their noise environment could be improved and 20% consider their place of residence to be too loud (Brussels Environment, 2013).
One way of understanding Brussels inhabitants' perception of noise is to examine the number of grievances pertaining to this type of noise nuisance. This work has been undertaken for the complaints related to neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations (see the documented sheet n°42). A summary of it is presented here. It should be specified nevertheless that this analysis pertained to complaints dealt with by Brussels Environment: however Brussels Environment is not the only competent authority, and neighbourhood noise as it is defined in regulation excludes a series of activities which common sense would include within neighbourhood noise. The regulation pertaining to noise from classified installations also excludes a series of activities.
Lodging a complaint
When a complaint is lodged, Brussels Environment encodes a description of the noise nuisance given by the complainant, including the type of noise disturbance and the sector of activity at issue. The types of noise nuisance are organised into 6 categories: behaviour (of people and animals), HVAC installations, equipment, music, loading/unloading, and an "other" category (essentially for undefined noise sources). The sectors of activity are the following: housing, retail, Horeca, leisure, construction, office and other sectors.
The complaint is handled by taking measurements using sound level meters to obtain an objective assessment of the nuisance perceived. If the noise does not meet regulatory reference values for noise, a procedure will be initiated. But in the case of neighbourhood noise or noise from classified installations, before carrying out this kind of measurement, it is preferable to try less expensive, alternative solutions which can also give conclusive results: dialogue, mediation or a justice of the peace. Moreover, the fact that a complaint is lodged with Brussels Environment and measures are taken does not necessarily imply that there are penalties as part of the handling of these complaints over noise. In fact, there are only a limited number of cases where complaints give rise to penalties: only 3.4% of the complaint cases closed between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2014 were the subject of an official report (Brussels Environment, 2015).
2/3 of the complaints handled by Brussels Environment in 2014 were related to neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations
The number of complaints related to neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations increased overall between 1992 (the year the procedure started) and the middle of the 2000s. It subsequently stabilised at 244 cases per year (average over the period 2005-2014). Nonetheless, a decrease seems to have occurred since 2010.
Complaints related to this type of noise nuisance represented a growing share of the complaints handled by Brussels Environment (all disciplines combined) up until 2008: almost 8 complaints in 10 in that year. This proportion then gradually decreased until it reached an average proportion of 2/3 of claims in 2014 (average over the period 2005-2014).
If the analysis of the number of grievances relating to noise nuisance is a means of understanding Brussels inhabitants' perceptions, it is nonetheless delicate to draw conclusions as to a direct correlation between these two parameters. The procedure for lodging a complaint appears to be relatively unknown however: the number of complaints is therefore likely to multiply when the procedure is more widely communicated. In this respect, the future implementation of a "noise-info" portal as planned in the noise plan 2008-2013 will likely lead to an increase in the number of complaints lodged with Brussels Environment.
Which noise nuisance related to neighbourhood noise and classified installations did Brussels inhabitants complain about in 2014?
Analysis of complaints of neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations per crossover between type of noise source and sector of activities (2014)
Source: Brussels Environment, "complaints" database
Note: Since a complaint can pertain to various noise sources, the total shown in this chart exceeds 100%.
In 2014, behaviour at the housing level constituted the main source of noise nuisance in the Brussels Region (almost 2 complaints in every 10). This was followed by noise nuisance related to the playing of music and to HVAC installations in the Horeca sector (a little more than one complaint in 10 in each of these 2 cases) and then complaints related to equipment in the housing sector.
As such, the housing sector is currently the sector which generates the highest number of complaints due essentially to behaviour (of people especially: daytime and night-time disturbances) and to equipment (the operation of household electrical appliances - including washing machines, tumble dryers, dish washers, lifts, flow noises, etc.) These sources concern respectively 2 complaints and 1 complaint in 10 of the total complaints regarding noise.
Next, the Horeca sector is the second sector of activities in terms of the number of complaints due essentially to three noise sources: the music played in these establishments (1 complaint in 10), HVAC installations (1 complaint in 10) and less frequently, behaviour (approximately 1 complaint in 20).
Finally, the cross-analysis shows that HVAC installations in retail shops and music in the context of leisure activities are often the cause of complaints (approximately 1 complaint in 20 for each of these two cases).
The cross-analysis also shows that the noise nuisance caused by equipment and HVAC installations affect a large number of sectors of activity. Conversely, music and loading/unloading are specific to certain sectors.
Furthermore, it can be observed that in less than 3% of the total complaints recorded in 2014, neither the noise source nor the sector of activity could be identified with regard to the description given by the complainants when the complaint was lodged.
The ranking of the main responsible sectors was different in 2005
It follows from the comparison of the cross-analysis of the complaints related to neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations between 2005 and 2014 that the ranking of the main responsible sectors has been revised.
Analysis of complaints of neighbourhood noise and noise from classified installations per crossover between type of noise source and sector of activities (2005)
Source: Brussels Environment, "complaints" database
In 2005, the first two places were inverted: music in the Horeca occupied the 1st position (18.5% of complaints related to this type of noise) whereas behaviour in housing only occupied 2nd position (11.9%). The 3rd and 4th places have also switched positions. The 3rd place concerned HVAC installations as in 2014, but the main responsible sector was retail (10.1%) and not Horeca (9.3%).
The main evolution trends of these complaints between 2005 and 2014
These differences in ranking result from evolution trends between 2005 and 2014 both at the level of the responsible sectors of activity and the categories of noise pollution.
Firstly, the evolution of complaints relating to noise for the 4 main responsible sectors of activity for noise pollution (housing, Horeca, leisure and retail) is marked by a significant increase in complaints relating to noise pertaining to the housing sector. The housing sector has therefore become the main source of complaints, having overtaken Horeca in 2012.
The evolution is also characterised by an increase in complaints related to the leisure sector and a decrease in complaints related to the retail sector.
Evolution of the breakdown of complaints related to noise for the sectors of activity of housing, Horeca, leisure and retail (moving average over 3 consecutive years between 2005 and 2014)
Source: Brussels Environment, "complaints" database
Secondly, the evolution of complaints related to noise per category of noise nuisance indicates that an increasing number of complaints are related to behaviour. Conversely, HVAC installations are less frequently mentioned as the source of the nuisance.
Complaints related to equipment increased until 2010 and have experienced a downward trend since then. With regards to the evolution of complaints related to music, no clear trend can be ascertained.
Possible explanatory factors of these trends
The increase in complaints related to behaviour could be explained by the fact that more and more people resort to Brussels Environment to report noise nuisance caused by their neighbours. Since behaviour is the main reason for complaints cited in the context of housing, the number of complaints pertaining to this sector has increased. However, the increase in the number of houses between 2005 and 2014 (+6%) probably also contributed (BISA, 2015). Moreover, it would appear that a growing number of complaints have been lodged in recent years which relate to the poor acoustics of new houses.
To explain the decrease in the number of complaints related to HVAC installations since 2005, various hypotheses could potentially be put forward: the technological evolution behind less noisy appliances? The increased awareness of installers and professionals?
The share of complaints related to the Horeca sector in relation to the total of the complaints dealt with by Brussels Environment hardly evolved between 2005 and 2014, as is the case for the number of establishments belonging to this sector in fact. The benefits of the "gentlemen noceurs" campaign (gentlemen revellers) during the summers of 2013 and 2014, which focussed on behaviour, do not appear to be reflected in the statistics on the evolution of grievances pertaining to behaviour for this sector.
The fact that all categories of noise sources increased in the leisure sector could be related to the increase in the number of business belonging to this sector (+16% between 2008 and 2013 – BISA, 2015). Moreover, various hypotheses could explain the proportionally greater increase in the "music" category for this sector, as is the case for that of Horeca: the increase in the number of musical activities and establishments using music to entertain their clientele, including in premises which are hardly appropriate for this activity; the amateurism of some operators; the technological evolution which makes it possible to reach louder noise levels than previously, etc.
Limiting neighbourhood noise is not easy. Being aware of and limiting the noise produced in the workplace, during journeys, at home or when going out is nonetheless the first step towards generating less noise nuisance within one's surroundings. Awareness-raising is therefore an important lever to reduce disturbances related to neighbourhood noise. The Brussels Environment brochure "Vivre au calme" (Living in peace and quiet) has actually been produced with this in mind.
The main lever to limit the noise of classified installations is the environmental permit. Conditions which are stricter than those of the decree can actually be included in this permit.
But whether it concerns neighbourhood noise or noise from classified installations, dialogue with those responsible for noise nuisance should be emphasised, so as to encourage them to pay greater attention. Among all the available procedures, lodging a complaint should be the last resort.
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