Noise complaints causing uproar in Greerton

Greerton resident Suzanne Lankshear wants the noise from The Tot Spot early learning centre to stop.

Multiple noise complaints are threatening the Greerton community’s use of its local hall, and a childcare centre is having to take costly measures to tackle noise to appease a disgruntled neighbour. Kerry Mitchell speaks to those involved.

A church group using Greerton Community Hall has had to relocate to another venue after 66 noise complaints – almost all from the same person – were received regarding various groups using the hall.

The complaints have resulted in eight excessive noise directions (ENDs) issued by Tauranga City Council and the possibility of a $600,000 bill to soundproof the building.

Andrew McMath, manager of environmental protection for Tauranga City Council, says the first noise complaint about the hall was received in September 2017, and there has been regular complaints – 66 in total – since December 2017.

“We served Greerton Hall with eight excessive noise directions after finding that 41 of the 66 complaints were justified,” says Andrew, “meaning that the noise levels were unacceptable.

“We carried out noise monitoring, which showed that the noise level was above the Tauranga City Plan limits.”

Bay Venues chief executive officer Gary Dawson confirmed that a church group using the hall has been relocated to another venue following the complaints.

“A church group was issued with two excessive noise directions,” says Gary. “It is believed they were using drums, so we have relocated to them another facility within our network.”

Bay Venues has put notices up around the hall reminding users to keep noise to a minimum and has advised, via their website, that it is unable to accept bookings with music after 10pm.

Gary says hall users are doing their best to be quiet. “But it’s not like it is one o’clock in the morning and there’s a wild party going on,” he says.

“Greerton is a hall that, until this individual moved in, there had been no complaints about at all.”

As well as raising revenue for the upkeep of the facilities, hiring them out to community groups at a low cost is a key part of Bay Venues’ service to Tauranga residents.

As a result of the complaints, Bay Venues has had detailed testing of the hall and identified where noise is leaking. An estimate from a quantity surveyor has put the cost of soundproofing at $600,000, says Gary.

“We’re now having to decide if we go to council asking for $600,000 to bring the hall up to a standard where people can turn the stereo up and not cause issues for neighbours, or do we restrict the usage of it?”

Gary says there have been no noise complaints from other small Bay Venues facilities in the city and even Baypark Stadium, which operates under a strict noise limit, rarely receives noise complaints.

Childcare noise irks neighbour

“I just want it to stop.”

Greerton resident Suzanne Lankshear has made multiple noise complaints against the childcare centre over her back fence, and insists the noise is “driving me crazy”.

Despite the complaints, Tauranga City Council has confirmed The Tot Spot early learning centre has not been served with any excessive noise directions, and centre owner Michelle Hodge says she has spent “thousands” trying to mitigate the noise for Suzanne in a bid to be a good neighbour.

Suzanne, 73, and her 52-year-old son, who is currently undergoing dialysis, are at home all day and say they can’t get away from the noise of children playing and loud music.

“These people have got a pergola that lifts the noise up over their sound barrier fence and straight at us,” says a tearful Suzanne. “It’s like someone having a stereo on all the time and it’s just totally stressing us out.

“We’re trapped here. We can’t sell because of the noise, but we can’t have the doors and windows open from now until March. We can’t even hear our TV inside the house. I just want the noise to stop.”

Suzanne admits the childcare centre was already established before she moved into her home five years ago, but feels the noise levels have increased during that time.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) defines excessive noise as “any noise that is under human control and of such a nature as to unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort and convenience of any person”.

Suzanne says she wants the council to enforce the RMA and give residents “a fair go”.

Michelle Hodge, owner of The Tot Spot, says while the centre is in a commercially-zoned area, it tries to be respectful of its residential neighbours.

She says noise control officers have visited the centre multiple times to measure noise levels and they have all been compliant.

“I’ve spent thousands of dollars putting mats over our deck so the kids aren’t running straight on wood,” says Michelle, “and we’ve stopped a lot of noisy activities out of respect for our neighbours, rather than being forced to by the council.

“At the end of the day, we’re licenced for 84 children and they’re our priority, however we’ve got to respect our neighbours and maintain our professionalism, and that’s what we’ve done.”

What is excessive noise?

People are entitled to make a reasonable amount of noise, but if it’s excessive you can make a complaint.

Tauranga City Council has a 24-hour noise control service handled by a security company. A noise control officer is dispatched after two complaints, either from separate people or the same person an hour apart.

If the noise is too loud, an enforcement officer can issue an excessive noise direction (END). This notice requires the noise to be reduced immediately and is effective for 72 hours. If further complaints are received and the noise level has not been reduced, an enforcement officer, accompanied by a police officer, can enter the premises and remove whatever is making the noise or make it unusable. A breach of an END can attract a fine of $500.

Andrew McMath, manager of environmental protection for TCC, says noise can disturb or annoy some people and not others.

“Everyone has the right to have excessive noise stopped or reduced,” he says, “provided the noise is under human control. If the noise being generated by a property is clearly audible from the neighbour’s boundary, it may be considered excessive.

“It is important for people's wellbeing that they are not negatively affected by noise, and noise control balances the need for people to make noise and the needs of people who may be affected.

“The Tauranga City Plan stipulates permitted noise levels within defined zones. Under New Zealand's Resource Management Act, people are not allowed to make ‘excessive’ noise, and must ensure that noise from their property does not reach an ‘unreasonable’ level.”

In the Tauranga City Plan, the sound levels in both residential and commercial zones should not exceed 50 dBA Leq during the day and between 40 dBA Leq and 70 dBA Lmax at night.