How loud is too loud?
It's time for Christchurch to have the debate on how much noise in the inner city is acceptable. Vicki Anderson explores the issue of noise and just who is in control.
The turn-it-down brigade phones the Christchurch City Council's noise-control team for several reasons, from excessively loud radios to car alarms, revving cars, house parties and crowing roosters.
Even the sound of shopping trolleys banging together is too much for some to bear. Others complain in advance about the possibility of noise.
Of course, noise regulations exist for valid reasons, but some argue that our inner city needs saving from "confused" mixed-use zoning regulations to help bring back our city's heart, while others are calling for regulations to be changed to prevent "nuisance" noise complaints from anonymous "persistent whingers".
When it receives a noise complaint, the council can offer advice on possible solutions to all noise but can act only on excessive noise created by the following: musical instruments/equipment, electrical appliances, machinery, a person or groups of people or, interestingly, explosion or vibration.
The person who complains is allowed to remain anonymous - there is no way of knowing if the person phoning is genuinely aggrieved by noise or is ringing to complain for other, more personal reasons.
On the opening night of the New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival last month, the GeoDome in Hagley Park was packed with Cantabrians eager to see British siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis.
Backstage, however, festival director Jodi Wright was anxious.
"It was loud and the first complaint phone call from an unhappy local resident was received about 30 minutes into the show," Wright says.
"I was fearful we'd get another complaint, so I phoned Alan Brodie, from Bounce, and he came down to the GeoDome and tried a few things that seemed to get the level down a bit. But we were on edge the entire concert."
Wright says she always considers the sound factor when booking an act that will perform either outdoors or in a marquee, venues which just "can't contain or absorb" enough performance-created noise/sound.
"I'd say it's very easy for one or two people who aren't happy to force the Christchurch City Council to shut down a show," Wright says.
With the bulk of our city's music venues destroyed by the quakes, such temporary venues have allowed some semblance of normality into people's lives.
Although such venues are fitted with acoustic treatments designed to minimise noise pollution, sometimes frequencies carry further than expected.
Wendy Alfeld,of pop-up marquee venue The Bedford, has had similar experiences.
"Our marquee show on Moorhouse Ave got shut down because of noise complaints and we had to move the marquee to another site.
"I'm proactive and keep in touch with neighbours and the council. At each show I stand outside the closest residental property to make sure it's not too loud. On some occasions I've driven two blocks away and you can't hear it but because of the way the frequencies travel, five blocks away you can hear it. It's a difficult job to get it right sometimes.
"Our job is to make noise but we're not here to annoy people."
Guy Cottrell has come up against his fair share of environmental issues in recent months while trying to open a nightclub, Realign, with business partner Abe Fisher, in an inner-city location in Colombo St.
However, his view is that although individuals at the council have "bent over backwards" to be helpful, ultimately these helpful council staff are themselves stymied by "outdated" regulations.
He says the city plan was drawn up for a city different from the one in which we now live and that the principal challenges are noise and neighbours and the two are fairly closely connected.
Traditionally nightclubs are situated in built-up areas; the surrounding concrete absorbing the noise of music and sociable people.
Our built-up area fell over or is being pushed over with the consequent lack of suitable buildings as either premises or sound baffles, making noise a real issue post-quake.
"With respect to noise and neighbours, oddly enough, a minority of those choosing to live residentially in mixed-use and industrial zones in the city, resent the noise associated with people being sociable, albeit late at night," Cottrell says.
Dux Live manager Ross Herrick said the venue had received three noise complaints in the year it had been open.
"All three have been electronic shows where the promoter has brought in additional sound equipment. The scary thing is that our nearest neighbours are over two blocks away. For this reason we thought this was an ideal location with no immediate neighbours."
The Gap Filler initiative and community-built venue the Pallet Pavilion has also had noise complaints.
Danny Noonan of local band WhEn PEtS ATtacK recalls an incident in which he was performing at the venue and noise control was called. He describes trying to sing quietly as somewhat stressful.
He believes that the council also needs to address the issue of "nuisance" complaints from "persistent whingers".
"I was just on stage trying to sing quieter and quieter based on signals from the lovely Pallet Pavilion people. It just seems ridiculous to me that one person has the power to phone and complain, hiding beneath the cloak of anonymity, and ruin the enjoyment of many people. Why are they accorded so much anonymous power?" Noonan says.
"The Pallet Pavilion is obviously not a big venture, they were trying to do something positive in the inner city. Why are the rights of the anonymous complainers more valid than other people's rights?"
Brent Giddens of Revival Bar says the venue is in a situation different from most other venues.
"As Victoria St is within a high-noise zone and entertainment and hospitality precinct, compliance with the council noise standards is not an issue. As a result of the amended Central City Plan, the council raised the noise levels in this precinct to provide for such activities."
But Giddens says that staff at the venue regularly check noise levels anyway.
"Staff generally check noise over 20 times throughout a night. As for the noise levels in the mixed-use zone . . . these do not properly provide for bars and restaurants by virtue of the council adopting noise levels that are essentially the same as a residential living zone."
The current noise limit for my chosen test site - an inner-city area zoned mixed use - is 55 decibels between 7am and 10pm.
Armed with my own decibel meter, I took readings at this site at various times of the day and night. A couple having an animated conversation in a cafe courtyard next door clocked in at 60 decibels, 65 when they laughed. Two men in fluoro vests sanding down a wall across the road was 105 decibels, a seagull shrieking overhead 52 decibels and a car alarm at midnight was 96 decibels.
As some inner-city noise limits stand, a vacuum cleaner (70 dBA) would be considered too noisy in some sectors of our CBD.
Going by my own noise readings, laughing too loudly and for too long in the inner city in a mixed-use zone might have noise control arriving to tell you to ssssh.
Some might say our inner city has sat in silence after dark for more than two years and the time has come to make some noise.
HOW LOUD IS TOO LOUD?
Soft whisper 30dBA
Fan heater 45dBA
Conversational speech 65dBA
Vacuum cleaner 70dBA
Noisy restaurant 80dBA
Chainsaw, pneumatic drill 100dBA
Threshold of pain 120dBA
Jet plane taking off nearby 140dBA
Depending on discretionary activity and whether the site of noise has a resource consent, there are three groups for mixed-use zones in the CBD.
The main group is Group 1 and there is a range of acceptable limits depending on the activity: