Panel set up to define unacceptable neighbourhood noise by year end

The newly formed community advisory panel will tackle unacceptable neighbourhood noise generated by residents. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A community advisory panel has been formed to tackle unacceptable neighbourhood noise from residents as well as outdoor spaces such as basketball courts and coffee shops.

It will establish what unacceptable noise levels are when, for example, residents drag furniture, slam doors or play loud music, and look into the feasibility of a guideline for noise levels in decibels.

It is chaired by Singapore Kindness Movement's general secretary, Dr William Wan, and comprises nine representatives from the social, academia and people sectors, the Municipal Services Office (MSO) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) announced on Friday (April 29).

"These members have experience and expertise in managing municipal issues, advocating positive social norms, mediating disputes as well as in acoustic engineering," they said in a statement.

The panel will propose a set of community norms by the end of the year to serve as a benchmark and common reference for public advisories, and when facilitating mediation at the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT).

The agencies said they will work with the panel to organise public consultation sessions from June. MSO will also conduct research to identify relevant practices from other countries.

The findings will guide the recommendations of the panel, they said.

Dr Wan said the panel hopes to test noise levels in decibels and establish levels of unacceptable neighbourhood noise.

"Noise is subjective, so we are trying to make it less ambiguous. We need to listen to those who have done the research and figure out the way to effectively and efficiently measure noise levels, and break it down so people can understand," he said.

The maximum permissible noise levels set out by the National Environment Agency for construction work is 75dBA, a decibel scale measure, at residential buildings located less than 150m from the construction site.

It is the maximum noise level for a continuous 12 hours from Mondays to Saturdays, 7am to 7pm. For a continuous five minutes during the same time period, up to 90dBA is allowed.

When a train goes by, noise levels can range from 80 to 85 decibels - equivalent to loud music being played, according to a Straits Times report in 2012.

The panel will also explore if the current quiet hours of 10.30pm to 7am - when residents are advised to keep their volume levels low and avoid carrying out drilling and hammering works - should be adjusted.

Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, who is on the panel and heads policy development, evaluation and data analytics at consulting firm Kantar Public, said there may be a different threshold in what constitutes noise or nuisance among neighbours.

"Some noises may be transient or hard to control or avoid, such as crying babies, and the tolerance to each of the occasions may vary considerably," he added.

The panel hopes that Singaporeans can adopt a more empathetic view on the impact of their habits and routines, Dr Leong said.

The panel was announced in March during the debate on the Ministry of National Development's spending plans.

This comes as the number of feedback cases related to neighbourhood noise has increased since 2020 as residents were spending more time at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, MSO and MCCY said.

The Straits Times reported in March that a customer service officer, who wanted to be known only as Jessie, faced deteriorating health from being sleep-deprived after tolerating sounds of dragging furniture and children jumping in the flat above hers for about three years.

The 37-year-old had said she decided to rent a bedroom elsewhere after three failed attempts at mediation through the Community Mediation Centre, and going to the CDRT.

Mr Isman Abdul Rahman, the vice-chairman of the Woodlands Community Club's management committee and a member of the panel, said he has encountered more noise disputes since the onset of the pandemic.

"Hopefully, the community will take (the recommendations) as a way to resolve noise issues amicably, in the spirit of being neighbourly," he said.

Ultimately, the panel hopes to educate the public on being considerate and kind to one another, Dr Wan said.

"If we inculcate neighbourliness, (residents) will be comfortable to approach each other and talk about the issue, instead of taking it to the authorities straightaway and make the other feel like they've committed a great offence," he added.

"Living in harmony is about being considerate and understanding, such as when special needs children make loud noises. As good neighbours, we have to give and take."

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