It is midnight and some people are still making tremendous noise on Wickhams Cay, but nothing is done about it; the same happens all the time all over Tortola but nothing is done. NOTHING! Some of the recommendations that were made by former Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges relating to noise pollution in the Territory some three year ago have not been implemented, not to say totally ignored, and current Complaints Commissioner Sheila Brathwaite mentioned this sad situation in the Eighth Annual Report from the Office of the Complaints Commission (Ombudsman) of the Virgin Islands that was recently laid on the table of the 11 October sitting of the House of Assembly.
In her report under the Own Motion Investigations (OMI) section, Complaints Commissioner Brathwaite stated that some the recommendations that were noted in the “For Peace’ Sake” investigation that was done by former Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges in 2015 are still in limbo.
She stated: “For Peace’ Sake” was an OMI completed in 2015, however the recommendations are still ongoing. The first recommendation to establish a Noise Policy with a view to revising the Noise Control and Abatement Act, 1996 will be looked at in earnest during the 2017 legislation agenda cycle according to Ministry of Health and Social Development.”
Nonetheless, the Complaints Commissioner said that one of the recommendation is well on its way; as hearing assessment of school age children is progressing well under the Audiology Unit of the BVI Health Services Authority.
Obscenely Loud Noise
The report was compiled in response to numerous complaints the Ombudsman received from residents in relation to obscenely loud noise and community disturbance. The then Complaints Commissioner (now deceased) announced back in 2015: “A complaint involving police that comes to us with some regularity has to do with noise. When people are being disturbed by noise their first recourse is to call the police, and if they don’t get relief then that becomes a complaint against the police, and there have been some of those.”
Georges prepared the report which was distributed to then Governor, His Excellency John Duncan, and Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton on June 30, 2015.
Over the years, the community turned to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) for the enforcement of the Noise Abatement Act. The reliance on the Police was clearly explained by Mr. Georges as he stated:
“The Act thus places enormous discretion and responsibility in the hands of the Commissioner of Police to decide what is “reasonable [noise level]in all the circumstances” and on the individual police officer called out on a complaint to decide a level of noise that “seems reasonable in all the circumstances” to her or him.”
In his report, Mr. Georges presented statistics of the number of calls the RVIPF received in relation to noise pollution. It was revealed that the RVIPF from 2010 to 2013 responded to some 103 calls dealing with noise, an average of nearly 26 per year or two per month.
Of these, the largest single group (38, 37%) was made up of complaints by residents about noise coming from bars/night clubs and not far behind was “neighbour noise”, noise coming from private quarters 33, 32%). Together, these two sources accounted for 69% of all calls. The next single largest target of noise complaints was motor vehicles.
Mr. Georges noted that in relation to the 103 responses, the reports paint a positive picture of “success”, with 70% of noise makers complying with requests to reduce the volume of noise. In a large number (22) of cases police intervention was inconclusive or by the time officers arrived the noise had ceased.
As such the Former Complaints Commissioner concluded that the Police try to assist and appear to succeed more often than not in having noise reduced, at least temporarily, even if not to the levels that complainants would like.
In the report Mr. Georges recommended among other things that the Ministry of Health should without delay begin to develop a comprehensive noise policy in order to inform the drafting of a new Noise Control Act. This recommended policy, he said, should take into account the latest scientific information available on the health effects of noise and on the best ways of mitigating noise or sound vibrations.
However, it was recommended that a balance ought to be reached in order to satisfy younger persons who associate loud noise with fun, the need of the elderly for peace, and the rights of children to a healthy environment conducive to sound mental development and learning and the need to maintain a reasonable level of economic activity. Furthermore, he advised that the new legislation should be drafted with a view to ease enforcement.
As it relates to enforcement, Mr. Georges suggested that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force ensures that all senior officers are trained in the relevant sections of the Noise Control and Abatement Act, 1996, as well as section 291 (c) of the Criminal Code and are prepared to charge offenders when warranted.