Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland
Your business activities may be causing a nuisance. A nuisance can be any action or failure to act, which interferes with people's use and enjoyment of land or property, or that could have a negative effect on health.
Causes of nuisances include noise, odour and smoke.
If you cause but fail to deal with a nuisance problem you could face legal action and a fine. Your local council could restrict or stop your business activities.
If you have a permit, licence or exemption and you breach noise, odour or other conditions your environmental regulator or, in Northern Ireland, your district council can take enforcement action against you.
This guide explains the law on nuisance for businesses and the actions that your local council and environmental regulator can take if your business causes a nuisance. It also covers specific types of statutory nuisance and gives advice on how you can try to limit their impact or avoid them altogether
There are two types of nuisance: common law nuisance and statutory nuisance.
If you cause a nuisance that causes harm to people or damages property you may be causing a private nuisance and could be sued by individuals or organisations. You may have to attend a court hearing and pay compensation or damages.
If the nuisance is affecting a public space or a large number of people, you may be causing a public nuisance. You may have to pay compensation or damages. Your local council may also take action against you to restrict your activities or prosecute you.
If the nuisance occurs because of a structural defect on your premises, action may be taken against you as the owner of the premises, even if you're not the person responsible for causing the nuisance. Action may be taken against you if the person responsible for causing the nuisance cannot be found. You can also be found liable if the nuisance has not yet occurred, but is likely to occur.
Nuisances caused by certain conditions set out in legislation are called statutory nuisances. A statutory nuisance can be caused by:
If your local environmental health officer finds that a statutory nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or recur, your local council can serve you with an abatement notice. An abatement notice can require you to:
An abatement notice is a legal document and if you do not comply with it you could be prosecuted.
Individuals can also bring a statutory nuisance case to court.
If you have a pollution prevention and control permit, a waste management licence or a waste exemption, it may contain conditions that control emissions, such as noise, dust or odour. You must comply with all of the conditions in your permit, licence or exemption. If you don't comply your environmental regulator, or in Northern Ireland your district council, can take enforcement action against you, such as issuing you with an enforcement notice or a suspension notice for breach of a condition.
For more information, see our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview
You may have to pay compensation for any damage caused if you create a public or private nuisance. If you cause a statutory nuisance your local council may make you carry out, or pay for, work to stop or reduce the nuisance.
Make sure that your business activities are not:
If you identify any nuisance you should take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimise it. To avoid causing a nuisance, you should:
You should ensure that nuisance events do not become persistent and regular as this is more likely to result in legal action.
Try to maintain good relations with your neighbours. Give neighbours early warning of any particular activities that you plan to carry out, such as building work or installing new plant.
Notify your local environmental health department, and either your:
in advance of any event that is likely to generate a nuisance that may cause complaints.
Display details of a contact person for your site so that local residents know who to contact with any concerns and you can deal with them quickly.
If you receive a complaint make sure you:
You may want to inform your local environmental health department and your local NIEA or SEPA office of any complaints, depending on the nature of the complaint and what your permits, licences or registered waste exemptions require.
If a complaint is made to your local council, an environmental health officer will assess if you have caused a statutory nuisance. If a complaint is made to the NIEA or SEPA, officers will assess if you have breached your permit conditions.
Ask your local council's environmental health officer and the NIEA or SEPA to inform you of any concerns or complaints they receive. You may be able to deal with these complaints before formal action is taken.
Noise and vibration caused by your business activities could be considered a nuisance. If you fail to deal with a nuisance problem you could face legal action and a fine. Your local council could restrict or stop your business activities. You should find ways to limit noise and vibration to avoid causing a nuisance.
If you have a pollution prevention and control permit, a waste management licence or a waste exemption, it may contain conditions that control emissions, such as noise and vibration. You must comply with all of the conditions in your permit, licence or exemption. If you don't comply, your regulator:
can take enforcement action against you, such as issuing you with an enforcement notice or a suspension notice for breach of a condition. See our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview.
If your business is in a designated alarm notification area you must:
You could be fined if you don't register. Contact your local council to find out if your business is in an alarm notification area.
Prevent your burglar alarms from causing a nuisance by making sure that:
You should avoid or minimise noisy activities, particularly at night. Pay particular attention to noise and vibration created by your traffic movements, reversing alarms and deliveries. If you operate a night shift, move materials into the work area during the day or early evening.
Switch off radios and loudspeakers unless necessary.
Keep noisy activities and equipment away from areas where noise may cause a nuisance, eg your site boundary. You can use existing buildings to shield the noise source.
Use solid panelled fencing around your site instead of wire fencing. This can help to screen the source and reduce the level of noise from your site.
If possible, landscape your site boundary with mounds or raised borders to further reduce noise nuisance to your neighbours.
Ensure your buildings have adequate soundproofing and shut your doors and windows to reduce noise.
Stand outside your site boundary and listen for noise that neighbours may consider to be a nuisance. This is especially important when installing or moving equipment.
Service your vehicles and machinery regularly. Correctly maintained equipment will make less noise and will be less likely to break down.
Fit noise-reducing devices, such as silencers and baffles, to your machinery, or contain machinery within enclosures.
Use mains-generated electricity instead of diesel generators.
Reduce noise from your vehicles by:
When you replace vehicles or machinery, consider buying quieter alternatives. New equipment can introduce a noise problem. You should carry out a noise assessment before you install a new piece of equipment.
You must not use loudspeakers or public address (PA) systems in a public place for any kind of advertising, except from a vehicle selling fresh food, eg ice cream vans. In this case you may use a PA system only between the hours of 12.00 and 19.00.
If you want to use loudspeakers or a PA system outside of these hours, you must have consent from your local council. You must specify the time, date, location and duration of use in your application and submit it 21 days before it is needed.
Odour, dust or smoke from your business activities could be considered a nuisance. If you fail to deal with a nuisance problem you could face legal action and a fine. Your local council could restrict or stop your business activities. You should find ways to limit the amount of odour, dust and smoke you create to avoid causing a nuisance.
If you have a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a waste exemption, it may have conditions that control emissions, such as smoke, dust or odour. You must comply with all of the conditions in your permit, licence or exemption. If you don't comply your regulator:
can take enforcement action against you, such as issuing you with an enforcement notice or a suspension notice for breach of a condition.
See our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview.
Certain odours can be considered a nuisance. To determine whether an odour is a statutory nuisance, or whether it is in breach of permit or licence conditions or your registered waste exemption, an environmental health officer from your local council, or NIEA or SEPA officer will assess:
Assess whether odours are likely to be emitted from your site and the most likely sources, and put appropriate control measures in place. Make this a part of your routine site inspections.
Control or stop the odour at its source. You should be able to demonstrate that you follow good practice in your operations and that you have used the most effective means to prevent an odour nuisance.
Do not use bonfires to burn waste - you could be committing an offence. Instead find ways to reuse, recover, recycle or correctly dispose of your waste.
If you must burn waste, follow legal requirements to avoid committing an offence. See our guideline: Burning waste - your environmental responsibilities
Keep equipment that reduces dust and smoke emissions, such as filters and cyclones, in good working order. Make sure that where dust is collected it is emptied on a frequent basis and disposed of correctly.
Make sure boilers, especially oil or solid fuel units, are operating efficiently and do not emit excessive smoke.
See our guideline: Preventing air pollution.
You can plant shrubs and trees in belts around the edge of your premises to help screen out dust and smoke pollution, but this should not be used in place of suitable process control or specialised equipment.
You must ensure that any waste produced, stored, transported or disposed of by your business does not harm the environment. This is known as your duty of care, and you must ensure that you:
See our guide on the duty of care - your waste responsibilities
If you fail to deal with a litter problem, your local council could issue you with a fine.
If it can be proved that certain litter problems have been caused by your business, your local council can issue a street litter control notice against you. This notice forces your business to clear the litter and introduces specific measures to prevent the recurrence of littering.
If you do not comply with your street litter control notice, you can be prosecuted. Alternatively, the local council may issue you with a fixed penalty notice.
If you want to advertise your business using outdoor signs, you must ensure that you do not cause a litter nuisance. Your outdoor advertisements must:
Depending on the type of advertising your business wants to use, you may need advertising consent from your local council. Subject to conditions, you do not need consent to display signs in the following areas:
Some other signs can be displayed without consent, provided they conform to certain conditions and limitations. This includes signs relating to hotels, bed and breakfasts, and houses.
You may need consent to display the following advertisements:
Artificial lighting from your business could be considered a nuisance. If it is, your local council could serve you with an abatement notice and you could be liable to pay a fixed penalty or prosecuted if you do not comply. You must find ways to avoid causing a nuisance from artificial lighting.
Plan the lighting for your site to ensure lights only come on when they are needed. A lighting plan can reduce your energy costs as well as reducing the risk of nuisance to your neighbours.
Angle your lights downwards or use light fittings that reduce light shining upwards. The ideal angle of lighting is less than 70 degrees from the vertical. Lights that shine upwards are more likely to cause a nuisance, waste money and create light pollution.
Check that security lights do not produce excessive glare which could affect drivers or neighbours. Only use the amount of lighting you need. Lights that are too strong can create dark shadows, which could encourage theft or vandalism on your site. Consider using security lights that are activated by movement. However, check that they are only triggered by humans and not animals.
If you carry out work at a building site your activities could cause a nuisance. If they do, your local council could serve you with an abatement notice and you could be fined if you don't comply. You should limit the ways your site could cause potential nuisances.
If your building site activities cause a nuisance, your local council can restrict the:
If you do not comply with these restrictions your local council can stop your operations and you could also be fined.
If you are planning construction work and know that it is likely to cause a nuisance, you can apply formally for prior consent from your local council, or discuss what restrictions they would impose, if they need to, later on.
Your local council will outline restrictions on possible nuisances before the work starts. You can apply for this consent at the same time as seeking approval under building regulations. This may save you time later on.
This page provides links to the full text of key pieces of environmental legislation relating to noise, odour and other nuisances. The websites hosting the legislation may list amendments separately.
If you are setting up an environmental management system (EMS) for your business, you can use this list to start compiling your legal register. Your legal adviser or environmental consultant will be able to tell you if other environmental legislation applies to your specific business.
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Contains a range of measures to improve the quality of the local environment by giving district councils additional powers to deal with litter, fly-posting and graffiti, dogs, noise, statutory nuisance, nuisance alleyways, abandoned and nuisance vehicles, and abandoned shopping trolleys.
Control of Pollution Act 1974 Part III (as amended)Sets out district council's duty to inspect and exercise powers concerning noise abatement zones, and the process for dealing with excess noise and noise from construction sites.
Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 SR 1049 Regulates waste on land, abandoned vehicles, noise nuisance, noise abatement zones, sulphur content of oil fuel used in furnaces and engines, cable burning, and pollution of the atmosphere and water. Other aspects have been revoked.
Statutory Nuisances (Appeals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 SR 61 Provides grounds and procedure for appealing an abatement notice served under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (NI) 2011.
Statutory Nuisances (Insects) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 SR 36 Prescribe the land forming part of an agricultural unit in respect of which payments are made under any of the land management schemes are excluded from the provisions in relation to statutory nuisances regarding insects.
Statutory Nuisances (Artificial Lighting) (Designation of Relevant Sports) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 SR37. Designates which sports can use the defence of best practice for artificial light nuisance, such as floodlighting, at outdoor sports facilities in Northern Ireland.
Planning (Control of Advertisement) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 SR.66 Provide a self-contained set of procedures relating to display of advertisements in Northern Ireland.
Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 Introduces fixed penalty notices for fly-tipping, littering and other anti-social environmental offences.
Antisocial Behaviour (Noise Control) (Scotland) Regulations SSI 2005/43 Sets out maximum noise levels allowed at specified times of the day from properties subject to noise nuisance measures under the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004.
Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 Sets out licensing arrangements for certain business activities - eg taxis, car dealers, metal dealers and street traders including wheelie bin jetting and cleaning operations.
Control of Pollution Act 1974 Part III (as amended) Sets out local authorities' duty to inspect and exercise powers concerning noise abatement zones, and the process for dealing with excess noise and noise from construction sites.
Environmental Protection Act 1990. Provides statutory duties for local authorities to deal with statutory nuisance.
Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 Sets measures for road noise, operating loudspeakers in a street, intruder alarms and covers local authority expenses for abating or preventing nuisance from recurring.
Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 Updates the nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 by introducing new nuisances of light and insects.
The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2014 These Regulations amend the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (Scotland) Regulations 1984. These introduce powers to serve stop notices in respect of enforcement action taken where there is a breach of the 1984 Regulations and make it an offence to fail to comply with an enforcement notice or stop notice.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has published a short guide to the duty of care responsibilities including advice and information for waste producers, carriers and those accepting, storing and treating waste.
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