While the island appears to be well versed with the need to look after the environment from the ridge to the reef, i.e. don’t trash our motu, there is however one area that appears to have slipped through the cracks – that of noise pollution.
The topic of noise pollution has been the subject of discussion in village meetings and, from time to time, even in the Niue Assembly but there is no sign of the boom boxes disappearing any time soon. Well, maybe not; there is hope, but only a faint one at that.
In the latest incident of possibly the worst example of noise pollution, a white truck with an array of speakers or loud hailers mounted at the back, was heard in the general vicinity of the Fale Fakatufono at Fonuakula and in other parts of the main village, blasting at maximum decibels what one person described as ‘a horrible screeching sound’ of what can loosely be described as music. The noise was so loud that a mother of two did what any mother of two would do under the circumstances, she took to social media. Coral Pasisi had had enough and so it seems a lot of other people as well.
She wrote: “…my preference is that you have some consideration for the rest of the folks on the island and leave your sound system inside your car … or a nightclub where assault on the eardrums are expected and accepted… rather than up and down the road where some of us have little kids who need to sleep or just generally don’t appreciate noise pollution!”
Coral’s post opened the flood-gates, but this time, there is overwhelming reaction from local residents, ranging from senior public servants to politicians, calling on the authorities to take firmer action. There was no shortage of comments condemning the perpetrator on this particular occasion but not much on how to deal with noise pollution, although a couple of people pointed out that there is existing legislation that could apply.
For a start, under the Village Councils Act 2016 section 18(c) a Council has the power to prevent and control noise pollution but only within the village boundary. A similar provision is said to be found in the Environment Act but dealing more with noise control.
It seems that no one has ever appeared before the court on a charge of noise pollution brought by a Village Council. According to the Niue Police, there has been only one successful prosecution brought under the Environment Act under the noise control provision.
In the meantime Chief of Police Tony Edwards said that the driver of the white truck involved in the latest incident has been spoken to and warned. “We try and work with our people to get them to adopt a more considerate approach”, he said.
So what does the current law says when it comes to noise pollution? Again, according to the Police, there is no law that would prevent anyone from installing a sound system inside their vehicle and using that system while travelling on the road. Once installed, you can play your music as loud as you like, loud enough to melt the upholstery in your car even, but so long as you are going about your normal lawful business of travelling from point A to point B, you have not committed any offence. It matters not that in the stillness of early morning your peace is suddenly shattered by loud music emanating from an 800 watts sound system installed inside a car and travelling lawfully from A to B. There is nothing you can do. It only becomes an offence if the same vehicle repeatedly drives up and down the road just for the fun of it.
In a village setting, the legislation is intended to stop neighbours from hell partying noisily into the early hours of the morning, although at one time, a particular village with a great sea track had difficulty in controlling party goers from using the ramp as a night-club; it takes just one car and a 500watt sound system.
For those who think that any loud music coming from a car on the road driving past your gate is an invasion of their private space, think again. That kind of noise pollution is not covered under any current legislation.
In recent times, powerful loud hailers – not to be confused with hand held portable devices – have made an appearance during takai time. These hailers are designed for maximum effect some distance away from their mounting platform and are normally used when there is a gathering of several hundred people. When an array of three or four is mounted on the back of a takai vehicle, or even on motor cycles, the decibels are enough to turn the makatea on the road to dust. These installations according to CoP Tony Edwards will not be tolerated, but not the systems installed inside cars. In fact any speakers mounted outside a vehicle is deemed to be outside the spirit of the law.
The health authorities have warned time and again against loud music in an enclosed space such as a vehicle, more so when young children are present. The odds are, they say, is that as you get older your hearing will deteriorate – but that is probably the last thing on the minds of those who like their music loud.
One avenue available to tackle the problem is for the island’s legislators to introduce legislation to ban the installation of any additional amplification system in a vehicle, other than the usual radio/cd/Bluetooth players that comes with the car. But with the elections looming early next year, this is not likely to happen.