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Our responsibilities

North Devon Council can provide informal advice and, depending on the circumstances, take action against 'statutory' nuisance.

Your responsibilities

Everyone has the right to a peaceful environment and everyone has an obligation to respect his or her neighbour’s rights.

Where you decide to make a complaint, you may be asked to document the effect – e.g. keep a diary over a period of time - or alternative action may be suggested.

What is a nuisance?

Nuisance is a complicated area of law. The information below is designed to explain the law and what action NDC’s Environmental Health team can take. The team can provide further advice.

There are two basic types of nuisance in law, statutory nuisance and common law nuisance.

Statutory nuisances

For action to be taken, the nuisance complained of must be, or be likely to become, prejudicial to people’s health or interfere with a person's legitimate use and enjoyment of land. This particularly applies to nuisance to neighbours in their homes and gardens.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 external website and the Public Health Act 1936 external website lay down certain types of nuisances for which there is a legal remedy. These include:
  • smoke and fumes
  • dust
  • steam and smells
  • piles of rubbish
  • animals
  • noise
  • polluted water (although this is now best dealt with via the Environment Agency)
Not all complaints amount to a statutory nuisance. NDC’s Environmental Health officers are trained to judge if a statutory nuisance exists.

If we assess that a statutory nuisance exists or is likely to occur, NDC will serve an abatement notice.

A notice can:
  • require the person causing the nuisance to abate the it ( i.e. to lessen or reduce the nuisance)
  • prohibit or restrict the nuisance
  • require works or other steps to abate, restrict or remove the nuisance
Businesses have a legal defence against legal action from a local authority, that they are using the 'best practicable means' of controlling the nuisance. This means there may be times when the local authority cannot take further action to reduce a nuisance situation. This defence is not available to businesses if an individual takes their own legal action.

Always discuss statutory nuisance issues with our Environmental Health officer. An abatement notice is a legal notice and non-compliance could lead to the risk of prosecution, for which NDC may need witnesses.

Avoiding a 'statutory nuisance'

Check if your business might cause a nuisance to neighbours by looking for noise, odours and other emissions near the boundary of your site during different operating conditions and at different times of the day. Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimise a nuisance or a potential nuisance.

Even if a complaint is not a statutory nuisance, consider if there are simple practical things that you can do to keep the peace.

Try to establish a good relationship with your neighbours, particularly for transient effects likely to affect them. Advise them in advance if you think a particular operation, such as building work or installing new plant could cause a problem. If neighbours are kept informed they see the business as more considerate and are less likely to make a complaint.

Make sure there is a good level of 'housekeeping' on your site and that your site manager and staff are aware of the need to avoid nuisances. Regularly check your site for any waste, accumulations, evidence of vermin, noise or smell.

Avoid or minimise noisy activities, especially at night; pay particular attention to traffic movements, reversing sirens, deliveries, external public address systems and radios.

Where practical, schedule or restrict noisy activities to the normal working day (for example 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday and 8.00 am to 1.00 pm on Saturday).

Consider where noisy operations are done close to site boundaries and relocate them if you can, perhaps further away, or make use of existing buildings/stockpiles/topography as noise barriers.

Reduce noise levels outside your buildings by increasing insulation to the building fabric and keeping doors and windows closed.

Ensure that any burglar alarms on your premises have a maintenance contract and a call out agreement.

Consider replacing any noisy equipment and think about noise emissions when buying new or replacement equipment. Maintain fans and refrigeration equipment.

Do not have any bonfires; find other ways to re-use or recover wastes.

Keep abatement equipment, such as filters and cyclones in good working order.

Ensure boilers, especially oil or solid fuel units, are operating efficiently and do not emit dark smoke during start up.

Common law nuisance

In principle anything (except an act of parliament) which stops anyone from exercising and enjoying their rights can be considered to be a common law nuisance. If the nuisance affects the whole neighbourhood, it can be considered to be a public nuisance. This does not always mean that it is something which can easily be stopped.

In the case of an individual nuisance, the remedy is for the individual concerned to sue for damages and/or seek a court injunction to prevent a recurrence of the nuisance.

Unfortunately, for non-statutory nuisance the law does not define exactly what is and what is not a nuisance. Furthermore, two people might both consider that the other is creating a nuisance. Who is right? Only a court would be the sure way to find out. The test of reasonableness can be applied. Just because someone complains of a nuisance this does not mean that there necessarily is one. For example, if someone complains that a neighbour is lighting a bonfire and blowing smoke into his garden, if it is a small amount of smoke for a relatively short time, it is probably not a nuisance as he could reasonably expect them to produce a small amount of smoke going about their legitimate business. On the other hand, if the bonfire burns for weeks producing lots of smoke, then quite possibly it is a nuisance. It might also depend on whether there have been regular bonfires at the same spot in the past. In any case, for practical purposes nuisance is a matter of subjective judgement, which means that if you are in doubt and if the problem is serious enough it is best to let our Environmental Health team, or a solicitor decide.

Examples of possible nuisances:
  • noisy radios
  • bonfires
  • model aeroplanes
  • shouting or singing
  • offensive language

Further information

Contact information

To contact the Customer Service Centre:

Telephone: 01271 388870
For Typetalk: precede with 18001
Text: 07624 804042
Fax: 01271 388451
Web form: report an incident
Web form: request a service

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Our office hours are Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
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