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Are 'outrageous' Norwich noise complaints justified - or is noise just a part of city life?

PUBLISHED: 13:34 25 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:42 26 May 2019

Chief executive of the Open Youth Trust John Gordon-Saker. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Chief executive of the Open Youth Trust John Gordon-Saker. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

It's a balancing act most bar and venue owners have to consider - how to pull customers in, and keep neighbours happy.

Aerial view of St Annes Quarter, Norwich, in its early construction phase. Picture: Mike PageAerial view of St Annes Quarter, Norwich, in its early construction phase. Picture: Mike Page

Noise disputes are not new, but rapid growth in the number of city centre dwellers can create strained relationships with local businesses.

Demand for city living is soaring - more than 430 homes are being built at St Anne's Wharf, off King Street, developers are fighting to build 280 student homes off Surrey Street and St Stephens Towers, formerly Aviva offices, are being converted into homes for 700 students.

But while proximity to shops, bars and restaurants may be enticing, late night noise from venues and revellers can quickly become a headache.

One man, a grandfather who has lived off King Street for five years, said he was tired of it.

"We were here before most of [the bars]," he said, "and I'm not alone, people are fed up of it.

"Norwich used to be such a fine city, but the city centre has gone down the pan. I expect some noise from revellers, but it's the music that's the problem."

Over the early May bank holiday, the Rooftop Gardens, in the Union Building on Rose Lane, had to end an event 30 minutes early after neighbours complained.

In response, operations director Glenn Walker said they "desperately don't want to upset anybody", and had made approaches to neighbours to discuss the concerns.

MORE: Bar allowed to open beer garden late, after plea to close it early is rejected

But there appears to be no easy solution - so far this year Bermuda Bob's, on Timber Hill, has faced a licence review lodged by The Murderers pub landlord Phil Cutter, along with Bond cocktail bar, on Tombland, which received noise complaints from neighbours.

An artist's impression of what St Anne's Wharf could look like. Pic: Submitted.An artist's impression of what St Anne's Wharf could look like. Pic: Submitted.

Richard Vivian, who runs noise consultancy Big Sky Acoustics, said issues had in the past been caused by permitted development rights, which allow certain works to go ahead without a formal planning application.

It means former offices, for example, could become flats without having to go through the usual considerations of the planning process. In 2016 the laws were tweaked to require councils to consider noise impacts on new residents from existing businesses.

A local example is the recent licence review at Bond cocktail bar, on Tombland, where neighbours in nearby St Cuthbert's House, a former office converted before the change, complained about noise from the area.

Mr Vivian works with bars, nightclubs and other venues to control noise."The character of the area needs to be taken into account," he said. "It's quite easy to see that residents might get higher levels of noise than they expected, but it's important to consider where you are.

"If you live next to an airport, you are likely to hear air traffic noise, and if you live in the countryside you are likely to hear noise from cockerels crowing."

Mercy nightclub in the Norwich.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Mercy nightclub in the Norwich. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

MORE: Norwich's largest nightclub faces closure after seven-year noise row with city council

In 2015, former nightclub Mercy revealed it had spent more than £1m to combat noise complaints, brought on after permission was granted to turn a nearby office block into homes some years earlier.

Tom McKay has lived off Prince of Wales Road for the last six years, and said, while it is noisy on Friday and Saturday nights, it is part of living in the centre.

"You do get noise from people coming down here late and music from the bars," he said, "but we are right on the edge of one of the busiest nightlife streets in Norwich.

"It's part of living in the city."

Rooftop Gardens bar and restaurant at Union.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRooftop Gardens bar and restaurant at Union. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

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John Gordon-Saker, chief executive of the Open Youth Trust, which runs OPEN on Bank Plain, said the venue sticks well within its decibel limits, particularly in the day when surrounding workplaces are full.

But the lack of residential buildings in the immediate vicinity, as well as the thick stone walls of the former bank, meant that noise complaints hadn't been an issue.

He said, though, if plans to put the nearby Royal Hotel back into use went ahead they might face more complaints, but both the layout of the venue and caution over noise limits still made it unlikely.

From a personal perspective, though, Mr Gordon-Saker, who lives on Riverside, near the former Ferry Inn Pub, said he had little sympathy for those who moved into a busy area and bemoaned the noise.

"It's pretty off to move into an area and complain. It's a bit like moving next to an airport and expecting it to be quiet," he said. "To have some iconic places like the Ferry Boat Inn shut down because of complaints is outrageous.

"If I was still there I certainly wouldn't be complaining, I wouldn't dream of it."

MORE: Bermuda Bob's and Murderers landlord row in Norwich leaves venues 'at risk'

'I respect people's rights to go out and have a good time'

One woman who lived on King Street, between the Queen of Iceni pub and the Waterfront, said Friday and Saturday nights were "invariably noisy".

"It was a predictable disturbance, starting at around 11pm and continuing until 4am or 5am as people poured in and out of the venues through the night. It was exacerbated by the fact that both have outdoor seating areas.

"As a young couple we were not that badly affected, but there were plenty of families living near us who I'm sure wouldn't want their children kept awake by alcohol-induced shouting, screaming and fighting.

"King Street has seen massive residential development in the past two decades and it is continuing, with new homes going up in Music House Lane and the St Anne's Quarter development.

"While I respect people's right to go out and have a good time, venues working in such a densely populated area - especially those with outside seating - have to think about their community responsibilities."

'It's a fine line we have to walk'

Noise rows are, of course, not just limited to the city centre.

And in January one pub on St Philips Road in Norwich saw how significant the impact of complaints could be.

The Belle Vue pub was on the brink of closure after two live music events led to complaints from neighbours - and a review of its licence.

But after the pub agreed to not host live music and install sound limiters, Norwich City Council decided against revoking its licence at a hearing to determine its fate.

Landlady Fiona Cawley said things had since settled, though they had received a complaint over the noise from their jukebox, despite its volume level having been set by the city council.

They also hope to put a ping pong table into use in summer, but fear they might receive complaints there too.

She said: "It's a fine line we have to walk. This is a very difficult job these days, you have to fight off the competition and do what you can, but you have to keep people happy."

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