The City of Cape Town’s Environmental Health Department has spent nearly R180 000 on the acquisition of two ‘sound cameras’ to help investigate noise complaints.
The units will be used in conjunction with existing sound level meters to measure the level of noise caused. Apart from the sound level meter and the camera, all of the other components were locally engineered to complete the device. City Health is not aware of similar equipment being used anywhere else in South Africa.
Until now, court cases involving noise nuisance complaints have relied on decibel readings from sound level meters as evidence to substantiate the complaints. The sound cameras will allow the capture of audio and photographic data which will be presented as evidence in addition to the decibel readings.‘This equipment will be used mainly for noise nuisance complaints where it may have been difficult to prove the source of a noise violation. It is not restricted only to specific events or occurrences but can be used in a wide range of applications, on condition that it can be practically applied. There will be instances where the source of the noise cannot be seen. In such cases, the camera will not be useful. The critical aspect though is that the new equipment will help us present better evidence in court cases and will therefore increase the odds of a successful conviction,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Health, Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli.
Where noise complaints are received, officials investigate the complaint and take measurements where possible using an integrated impulse sound level meter. If the noise is found to be in violation of existing regulations, the responsible person is served with a compliance notice which could include corrective sound-proofing measures or ceasing the activity altogether.
Non-compliance can result in a fine and/or prosecution. The City Health Directorate’s most recent annual statistics for noise show that City Health dealt with 655 noise complaints, of which 424 were disturbance (measurable) investigations and 231 were noise nuisance investigations. Of these, 19 cases resulted in court action – three of which have yet to be finalised.
The Noise Control Regulations allow for a fine or imprisonment of up to two years (or both) upon conviction. The penalties are determined by a magistrate. Past penalties have typically included an order to soundproof a venue, as well as an admission of guilt fine of R5 000.
Once a notice is served, an offender must be granted a period of time to take corrective action. Although the notice will normally require that the disturbance must cease, any lesser but still audible noise may not necessarily be illegal and may thus continue. It is also worth noting that soundproofing a venue does take some time as it includes a number of processes such as:
· the appointment of an acoustic consultant
· the submission of a noise management plan
· the submission of building plans in the case of structural changes
· testing the efficacy of such soundproofing
· approval and management to ensure compliance
‘Such a process could take months to successfully implement and it is important that the public understand that. We’re living in a world nowadays where people expect instant results, but unfortunately that’s not always how it works. However, the sooner residents bring noise nuisances to our attention, the sooner they can be attended to,’ added Councillor Mamkeli.
Members of the public can log noise complaints via the City’s call centre on 0860 103 089.