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SoE 2009 > Human Settlement > 3.5 Noise

Chapter 3: Human Settlement

3.5 Noise

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Human Settlement

3.5 Noise

Noise pollution is the third-highest type of complaint call received by DECCW's Environment Line.

The number of noise incident calls to Environment Line decreased by 20% between 2004–05 and 2007–08, while calls requesting information about noise issues fell 24%. These calls represent only a subset of the total complaints about noise, as local councils and the police deal with most noise issues and, without centralised information collection, it is difficult to assess total noise impacts.

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Noise pollution can be defined as unwanted noise that unreasonably intrudes on daily activities. In urban areas, noise pollution has many sources, most of which are associated with urban living: road, rail and air transport; industry; and neighbourhood and recreational activities. The level of annoyance or discomfort depends on the type, timing, duration and frequency of noise, or where the disturbance is unusual. Noise pollution can have negative impacts on the quality of life and health and is best addressed in planning and pollution control strategies. There is limited data on which to report performance indicators and insufficient baseline data to establish acceptable benchmarks for gauging whether noise levels are changing.

There is, however, increasing evidence that the presence of quiet areas, both within and outside homes, results in increased wellbeing and reduced annoyance and adverse health impacts. Access from homes to quiet green areas, such as parks and reserves, has been shown to reduce noise annoyance and stress-related psychological symptoms (Gidlof-Gunnarsson & Ohrstrom 2007). These findings reinforce the need for judicious planning of residential developments as the pressures of population growth and greater urban density increase our exposure to the various forms of unwanted noise.

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Status and trends

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Noise impacts on urban amenity

The impact of noise on human health has emerged as an increasingly significant issue that justifies considerable management effort. There is now sufficient evidence internationally that community noise may pose a public health risk, although further research is needed to more fully assess its impact (enHealth Council 2004).

Local councils, the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) and NSW Police all receive complaints regarding noise. In addition, complaints are not considered to be an accurate measure of the impact of noise and typically understate it. As a result, the data on complaints received by DECCW shown in Figure 3.24 is indicative only.

Calls to DECCW Environment Line

Environment Line received 1154 noise incident reports in 2007–08 or 17% of all incident calls. Seventy per cent of these incident reports were about activities that are regulated by DECCW. This is a decrease in the total number of noise-related incidents from 2004–05, when 1438 calls were received, but an increase in the overall share of incident calls, up from 15% in 2004–05. Of all 2004–05 noise incident reports, 73% were about noise from premises licensed by DECCW. In addition, DECCW dealt with 1063 noisy vehicle incidents in 2007–08 (compared with 1155 in 2004–05). Although motor vehicle noise complaints are received by Environment Line they are reported separately from other noise incident calls.

In 2007–08, Environment Line also received 4686 requests for information about noise issues, 8% of all information calls received (compared with 6193 and 16% in 2004–05).

Figure 3.24: Environment Line incident calls, 2007–08

Figure 3.24

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Source: DECC 2008c

Figure 3.25 presents the type of noise complaints received by DECC in 2007–08. Noisy vehicles were the most reported complaint (48%), followed by noise from scheduled premises.

Figure 3.25: Noise complaints received by DECC in 2007–08

Figure 3.25

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Source: DECC 2008c

Data has been collected since 2002 on the number of calls made to Environment Line, with the number of calls relating to noise complaints shown in Figure 3.26. These calls represent only a subset of the total complaints about noise, as most complaints are directed to councils, police and other agencies that are also responsible for dealing with noise issues in NSW.

Figure 3.26: Environment Line noise incident calls, 2002–03 to 2007–08

Figure 3.26

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Source: DECC 2007b; DECC 2008c

From 2003–2004 to 2006–07 the number of noise incidents calls to Environment Line fell while the number of calls rose in 2007–08 to a level similar to that in 2005–06.

Calls to NSW Police

NSW Police record all calls received with their Computerised Incident Dispatch System (NSW PoliceCAD). These complaints were initially reported as noise complaints which may be the result of other activities, such as an alarm being set off as the result of a break-in (Table 3.5).

Table 3.5: Number of noise and alarm incidents recorded and attended, 2008

Type of noise incident

Recorded on PoliceCAD

Noise complaint

100,273 (~65%)

Alarm (vehicle or building)

55,087 (~35%)



Source: NSW Police data 2009

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A number of pressures contribute to the problem of high noise levels, including:

  • increasing population, particularly where it involves expanding urbanisation in former rural areas, and urban consolidation with incompatible adjacent land uses
  • increasing volumes of road, rail and air traffic
  • planning that results in noise-based land-use conflicts.

A survey in 2004 found that 46% of respondents considered road traffic noise to be a problem in their neighbourhood (DEC 2004a).

Further adding to noise in metropolitan areas of NSW is Sydney Airport, Australia's busiest accounting for 44% of the country's international aircraft movements. A record 31 million domestic and international passengers travelled through Sydney Airport in 2006–07, an increase of 6.4% (1.87 million people) on the previous year (DSRD 2008).

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Preventing noise impacts

Table 3.6 shows the range of government agencies responsible for dealing with noise issues, with local councils and the NSW Police having the main role. Some councils have addressed noise issues in their local environmental plans and have development control plans that provide acceptable noise criteria. Councils can also implement noise control measures as part of their development approval for subdivisions and individual developments and may include specific conditions of consent or design options to address noise issues.

Table 3.6: Government agency responsibilities for noise issues in NSW

Enforcement authority

Type of noise or source

Airservices Australia

Aircraft (commercial and in flight)


Aircraft on ground at private and council airports

Barking dogs

Backyard workshops, small factories and commercial premises

Building and construction

Garbage collection

Public sporting and entertainment venues

Local roads

Councils, NSW Police

Car or house alarms

Motor vehicles on private property

Noisy garden equipment or household appliances

Noisy neighbours, parties or music on residential premises


Large industrial complexes

Major public infrastructure

Concerts at major state venues (such as Sydney Cricket Ground, The Domain, Sydney Olympic Park)

Rail noise

DECCW, councils, NSW Police

Motor vehicles in public places and car sound systems

NSW Police, NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing

Clubs, pubs and other licensed venues

NSW Maritime

Boats (recreational), jet skis, music on boats

Ports Corporation

Container and passenger ships

Roads and Traffic Authority NSW

Road traffic on freeways, tollways and expressways

The following NSW Government publications provide guidance to regulators and industry about land-use planning principles that can result in better residential environments and the avoidance of land-use conflicts:

  • Environmental Criteria for Road Traffic Noise (EPA 1999)
  • NSW Industrial Noise Policy (EPA 2000)
  • Noise Guide for Local Government (DEC 2004b)
  • Assessing Vibration: A technical guideline (DEC 2006)
  • Interim Guideline for the Assessment of Noise from Rail Infrastructure Projects (DECC & DoP 2007)
  • Development near Rail Corridors and Busy Roads – Interim Guideline (DoP 2008b)
  • NSW Construction Noise Guidelines (Draft for Consultation) (DECC 2008g).

A number of brochures are available from DECCW for dealing with neighbourhood noise, barking dogs, noise from vehicles and intruder alarms, and how to seek noise abatement orders. These were updated in 2008 to take account of changes introduced in the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008. Local councils, NSW Police and NSW Maritime officers have also been briefed on the new requirements. Some NSW councils have drafted local noise policies or guidelines which take into account local preferences and community expectations.

As noisy vehicles account for a significant proportion of noise complaints, DECCW works with the police and, in some cases, local councils to enforce regulations to prevent the use of defective noise control equipment on vehicles, and limit exhaust noise and noise from off-road vehicles, refrigeration trucks, horns and vehicle sound systems. This includes regular participation in NSW Police campaigns in areas where noisy vehicles are known to be an issue.

Noise Testing and Anti-tampering Inspection Scheme

In response to noisy vehicle incidents, DECCW launched its Noise Testing and Anti-tampering Inspection Scheme in September 2007. The aim of the scheme is to significantly reduce the number of noisy vehicles on NSW roads and strengthen compliance with regulations.

A network of approved inspection stations has been established across NSW under the scheme to provide a more accessible service to vehicle owners. Previously, a vehicle owner reported to have an excessively noisy vehicle had to have the vehicle tested at Lidcombe in Sydney. This limited DECCW's capacity to undertake noisy vehicle compliance activities outside Sydney and vehicle owners often had to wait several weeks to have their vehicles tested. Another five stations have now been set up at Campbelltown, Granville, East Roseville, Albion Park and Redhead.

Rail noise management

The NSW Government is developing a comprehensive approach to managing the environmental impacts of noise from the NSW rail system. Effective management of rail noise will require the combined input of rail infrastructure owners and developers, rail operators, train manufacturers, regulatory and planning authorities, and the community. The key parts of this approach include:

The Infrastructure Implementation Group (Office of the Coordinator General, within the Department of Premier and Cabinet) is overseeing this work and DECCW has participated in the development of all the components.

Planning provisions addressing noise

The Department of Planning uses key strategies to assess and approve planning applications, and these include:

  • specific buffers between industrial and residential areas to limit noise affecting residents
  • locating certain industries, due to their scale or nature, away from settlements to minimise the impacts of noise on communities
  • locating proposed new urban areas that are close to existing airports to reduce exposure to noise.

Specific planning strategies are applied in particular regions. For example, the Central Coast Regional Strategy requires local councils to:

  • incorporate provisions to control the off-site impacts of development, including pollution such as noise, in local development standards and policies
  • implement key NSW Government initiatives and guidelines, including industrial noise policy, noise and vibration guidelines and environmental criteria for road traffic noise.

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Legislative framework for noise control

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008 provide the legal framework for managing unacceptable noise. No single government authority has the responsibility or capacity to manage all forms of noise pollution. Table 3.6 lists the enforcement authorities responsible for various types of noise in NSW.

The Liquor Act 2007 provides a framework for managing undue disturbance associated with the operation of licensed venues and the conduct of patrons, including from noise.

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Future directions

Baseline data and agreed assessment models are needed to assist planners and compliance officers to deal effectively with noise problems. DECCW is liaising with authorities responsible for noise management to improve data on noise issues so that more targeted information will help shape policies and programs.

State and local governments need to coordinate strategies to ensure that land-use compatibility is considered in all future planning processes to prevent the generation of new noise sources that have an adverse impact on public health and amenity. Where development consent has been granted to locate residential areas and industry close to one another, careful siting of less sensitive land uses (such as commercial developments) next to major noise sources and the establishment of buffer zones can help minimise conflicts and retain amenity.

A major objective of the Metropolitan Strategy: City of Cities – A plan for Sydney's future (DoP 2005) is to minimise household exposure to unacceptable noise levels. Planning for new developments will aim to avoid noise-related land-use conflicts through initial planning, with appropriate separations for incompatible land uses. Urban renewal should be located and designed to minimise noise impacts on residents while recognising the benefits of concentrating housing around transport nodes or corridors. The planning of new release areas should consider existing adjoining land uses such as small farm holdings. Modelling of noise within metropolitan areas would assist this process. As required by the Metropolitan Strategy, the Department of Environment and Climate Change completed a pilot study in 2008 on the use of noise mapping as a planning tool to inform land-use layout, building design and construction methods in areas affected by noise from transport corridors.

A study of best-practice planning for noise and vehicle air emissions along land-based road and rail corridors has led to the development of guidelines to support the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007. The policy introduced goals for internal noise levels based on World Health Organization guidelines for residential and other sensitive developments alongside busy road and rail corridors to protect heath and amenity. The guidelines recognise that judicious land-use planning, architectural design, building orientation and good internal layout can achieve acceptable acoustic amenity in close proximity to busy transport corridors.

As construction noise accounts for about 8–10% of all noise information calls, DECCW has developed the Interim Construction Noise Guideline (DECC 2009c) with detailed suggestions on how to improve noise control on construction sites through the use of better work practices. The guideline also sets out ways to deal with the impacts of construction noise at residences and other sensitive land uses.

A new road noise policy is being developed that aims to reduce the impact of road traffic noise for the community, particularly in quiet rural areas where amenity impacts can be significant.

Questions in relation to the impact of road traffic noise on human health will be included in future surveys under the annual NSW Health Survey Program, an ongoing telephone survey of NSW residents used to monitor the self-reported health of the population.

There have been a large number of requests from the public seeking more controls on noisy equipment, such as leaf blowers and air conditioners. To reduce this kind of neighbourhood noise, DECCW is working with other authorities to develop a noise labelling scheme for Australia and New Zealand. This will label noisy household tools and equipment with labels similar to those used by the European Union to assist consumers in choosing relatively quiet models. DECCW has also worked with other authorities to develop a standard for the management of engine brake noise and achieve consistent implementation of Australian Design Rule 83/00 on vehicle noise.

Existing Government noise management strategies, such as the NSW Industrial Noise Policy (EPA 2000), need to be reviewed to ensure planning controls reflect best-practice mitigation and management measures for noise-generating land uses and activities.

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