Victoria Raimes: Hey! Turn it down! we're too noisy!

FOR MOST people, our home is our sanctuary. After getting in from work, school or a day out, there is nothing quite like kicking off your shoes and settling down to enjoy some peace and quiet.

If speakers are blasting out tunes late into the night, or the amorous couple next door have a very squeaky bed, however, that can be next to impossible.

"Home, sweet home" is a phrase that is hard to believe when the next door neighbours are noisy ones, but unfortunately for Edinburgh, thousands of local residents have been proved to be a raucous bunch.

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Whether it is music, arguments, love-making, parties or home appliances, we generate more noise pollution than anywhere else in Scotland. Last year more than 11,000 complaints were made about excessive noise.

Every day between 30 and 40 calls are made to the city council or the police about unruly neighbours – or sometimes outside noise made on commercial sites and roads. The issues include TV's blaring, dogs barking, car alarms screeching, industrial sites clanging, couples screaming and children fighting.

Domestic anti-social behaviour noise makes up four-fifths of complaints registered; the rest tend to be "outside" noises. The figure is five times higher than it was 25 years ago, much of which is attributed to more hectic lifestyles, longer working hours and the modern 24-hour city culture. It is thought that the problem could be even worse than recorded: a third of people who suffer from noisy neighbours are said not to report the problem.

The city council hope that this will change. Kicking off today, Noise Action Week will run until 30 April – and the council's Noise Team are not keeping quiet about it.

They are running roadshows in various neighbourhoods to raise awareness of the impact of noise and the simple, practical measures that can be taken to prevent noise problems.

Councillor Robert Aldridge, the city's Environment leader, said: "We're keen to ensure that there's a better awareness about domestic and industrial noise and also because of our responsibilities on antisocial behaviour.

"We all have a responsibility to each other, whether as employers, neighbours or because we're sharing the same public space."

Those who fail in these responsibilities are dealt with by two Edinburgh noise teams, who travel to the offending home or site. A debut trip sees two of the team objectively assess the sound using only their hearing; if called out a second time, however, they will use a sound meter to see if the offender has exceeded the maximum level of decibels allowed. If they have a 100 fine is issued.

Head of the Noise Team, Steve Williamson, said: "We've been enforcing the Anti-Social Behaviour Act since 2005, working with the police. But only the police work between 4am and 8am. Generally speaking, we deal with issues in cold blood, going straight into the property and asking if they can turn it down, tone it down or turn it off.

"If we find that the person has gone above the maximum sound level, we first ask them to turn it down then, if we return, it's a 100 fine, then it's court. On rare occasions we will seize goods, but that requires a warrant."

Mr Williamson said the Capital was particularly sensitive to noise because of its housing make-up – tenement blocks make it easy for noises to filter through. He said: "High density housing is the most problematic for noise, and Edinburgh is full of it. When you tell people to be quiet, most people are cooperative, although some are a bit silly.

"Some noise is hard to assess because it is short-lived. There's often not much you can do about an amorous couple, but you find when somebody complains about something like that, it is generally linked to other issues.

"Most complaints tend to come through over the weekend and in the summer. In 2005 – when we had the hottest summer we'd had in years – we got a lot of complaints because people stayed up to have barbecues, and those who wanted to sleep tended to leave their windows open, so could hear more."

One 29-year-old resident, from Merchiston, who did not want to be named because she still lives next to the "hellish" neighbours in question, shared her experience of one noisy family in her tenement building.

She said: "There hardly seemed a time when they were quiet. They'd play music loudly until the early hours and the walls are quite thin so you could hear them banging about and laughing.

"One night was particularly noisy and it also sounded like they were smashing things up. I think other people didn't complain about it because they were scared, but I'd had enough.

"I phoned the police and a couple of guys came around. I know they came round a few times before anything changed. But now they've had a couple of fines, they are a bit quieter."