Green group under fire for tenant noise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2011, 12:00am


One of the most active green groups in Hong Kong, Friends of the Earth, is embroiled in a fight over noise pollution and has been accused of not taking the issue as seriously as it does other forms of environmental harm.

Neighbours of a music school in a Wan Chai property owned by Friends of the Earth say noise from practice sessions, such as badly played and repetitive drums, pianos and violins, is making their lives intolerable.

The dispute between the green group's tenant, the Hong Kong International Music School, and its neighbours has also called into question the viability of the city's 14-year-old noise pollution laws, which do not cover commercial properties.

The legal loophole means the Environmental Protection Department cannot step in to mediate and has led the victims of the noise to issue a legal threat to the green group unless it solves the problem quickly.

Friends of the Earth admitted there was a problem and said it was doing its best to address it.

The trouble started late last year, shortly after the music centre opened in a unit of a Lockhart Road commercial centre that was formerly the Friends of the Earth headquarters.

In December, the school and the green group began to receive noise complaints from an occupant one floor above.

'The music is played by beginners and the sound is not very attractive; most often it is repetitive too. For me, the drums are the worst,' said Herman To Yung-sing, a director of the Hong Kong Institute of Micro-Finance, whose office is on the third floor, right above the school.

To said the school, run in partnership with the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, was poorly insulated when it opened and the school took months to make improvements. But even after the work, the problem persisted, To said.

'Why do I have to endure all this nuisance, this noisy working environment?' said To, who often works at his office until 9pm. The school operates from 5pm to 10pm on an irregular daily basis.

To said he was unhappy that Friends of the Earth, for which he had respect, had acted like a third party in the dispute, and called on it to handle the issue of noise in the same way it tackled other pollution issues.

To's lawyers wrote to the group on May 5, a day after both parties met at To's office to witness the noise level, asking it to stop the noise immediately or face further legal action.

Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said the group was sincere in addressing To's concerns and was working closely with its tenant to improve noise insulation as far as possible. 'The school has blocked all windows and wrapped all pipes with insulation materials. It has also insulated part of the ceiling at the drum studio,' Lau said.

It took time for the school to redesign the studio and hire qualified people to implement the measures, he said, and noise levels had been significantly reduced.

But To disagrees.

Lau also proposed bringing in an independent third party such as the Environmental Protection Department to assess the situation. But he was told by the department that it had no power to deal with the case.

A departmental spokeswoman said noise pollution laws did not cover cases in commercial premises because such premises were not defined as 'noise-sensitive receivers'.

This means noise disputes have to be settled voluntarily or in court.

'Noise-sensitive receivers' refers to domestic premises, hotels, hostels, temporary housing, hospitals, medical clinics, education institutions, places of public worship, libraries, courts of law and performing arts centres.

'I am surprised to learn that the department can do nothing about our case,' Friends of the Earth's Lau said.