Control of Noise

Environmental noise in New Zealand is controlled under the Resource RMA and the Health Act 1956. The Health Act contains nuisance provisions, in particular, ss29-35 of the Health Act deal with nuisances including s29(ka):

'Where any noise or vibration occurs in or is emitted from any building, premises, or land to a degree that is likely to be injurious to health'.

Under the Health Act, nuisances such as noise are the responsibility of local authorities. This provides a potential alternative mandate and enforcement mechanism for the control of noise. Enforcement under the Health Act can extend to prosecution through the district court.

However, most territorial authorities have adopted the RMA as the main method for controlling environmental noise. Noise within the workplace is dealt with by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Service of the Department of Labour.

Best practicable option for avoiding noise emission

Section 16 of the RMA requires all noise makers to adopt the best practicable option to avoid the emission of unreasonable noise.

As defined in s2 of the RMA, best practicable option means 'the best method for preventing or minimising the adverse effects on the environment having regard, among other things, to -

  • The nature of the discharge or emission and the sensitivity of the receiving environment to adverse effects; and
  • The financial implications, and the effects on the environment, of that option when compared with other options; and
  • The current state of technical knowledge and the likelihood that the option can be successfully applied'.

The duty to adopt the best practicable option is in addition to the duty to comply with district plan noise limits. This duty applies to every person, company, legal entity, and the Crown, and includes persons undertaking activities on designated sites. There are no exceptions.

Enforcement tools

The enforcement tools available within the RMA to control adverse noise effects in the environment are:

  • abatement notices issued by territorial local authorities subject to s322(1)(c)
  • enforcement orders to avoid unreasonable noise or enforce plan rules under ss314-321
  • excessive noise direction notices issued by or on behalf of a territorial authority subject to s327.