The Greek Weddings

Case Study

In a north London suburb lived four brothers.  Their dream was to set up a business to provide a memorable Greek wedding experience – eating, music and dancing into the small hours – for members of the Cypriot community.  They purchased the lease of a large, Art Deco car showroom.  No expense was spared; they lavished a large sum of money to furnish it in style.  But they forgot something important.  They did not consider whether excessive noise would be caused by running the events.

The four brothers were let down.  The local planning department gave them no advice about the noise impact of running events.  The planning conditions were based on the premises being used as a conventional restaurant, not as an entertainment venue.  Their architect gave them no advice about noise attenuation.  Environmental health knew nothing about the problem until the complaints started rolling in.  Come opening day they ran their first event, and others followed soon after.  These were enormously successful, except in one respect.  The noise made by a couple of hundred excited party-goers, the singing and the dancing, the bouzouki band playing at full pelt, the crashing of the car doors as the guests left in the early hours were all too much for the residents of neighbouring flats.  The noise of the events passed straight through the glass roof, out of the windows, and into the lounges and bedrooms of the adjacent flats. The complaints put the local authority under pressure to do something.

The brothers first knew there might be a problem when a noise abatement notice was served by their local authority. The notice was bland.  It was drafted by a technical officer who had never served a noise notice on a commercial entity before. The notice stated:

“Exercise proper control of the volume of sound generated at the premises so as to ensure that the total volume of sound emitted is not likely to cause a nuisance to persons residing in the vicinity.”

The notice had to complied with forthwith. An accompanying letter told them that it was up to them to decide how to abate the nuisance.  This left them perplexed: it hadn’t occurred to them that running their business could amount to a nuisance.  But they ignored the abatement notice, a month passed and they hadn’t appealed the dubious notice. They were then served with a summons to appear at their local magistrates’ court.

The local authority had never offered them advice on the noise problem and wouldn’t now as they had issued proceedings.  The brothers wanted to know what they should do, so they decided to hire a noise expert – David Horrocks – to tell them.  David came up with a plan to contain the noise within the building envelope.  It would cost about £100,000 to put right and take 3 months to complete.  Had this plan been put into effect when the interior of the building was being renovated, it would have only marginally added to the cost.

The brothers commissioned the work to go ahead and did all they could to comply with the abatement notice.  But they had earlier breached the notice, at a time when they didn’t know how to comply with it short of closing their business.  Obviously, the noise from the events did amount to a statutory nuisance. So the local magistrates’ court imposed a heavy fine on each of them to teach them a lesson.

This case illustrated a number of issues, including:

  1. The necessity to obtain technical noise advice early on;
  2. The importance for planning departments to obtain technical advice about noise levels;
  3. The need for environmental health departments to balance the rights of complainants with the needs of businesses;
  4. The need for an intelligent use of enforcement powers, particularly where a business is willing to resolve a difficult problem.

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