When noise comes down to a hearing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am


It sounds like the most unlikely of scenarios: one of Hong Kong's staunchest upholders of all things environmental, Friends of the Earth, is accused of refusing to stop the alleged noise pollution from premises in Wan Chai it rents to a music school. The green group says it has done all it can to curb the noise, but the tenant upstairs is still bothered by the amateur renderings on pianos and drums. Police and the Environmental Protection Department, guided by 14-year-old laws, cannot do more than they have already. In the circumstances, what would seem a trivial matter seems headed for our courts.

Without those involved seeing eye to eye, this is the only way that there can be a resolution. There has to be sympathy for the upstairs office workers, who require peace of mind to operate their micro-financing business. Friends of the Earth has tried to get its tenant to do what it can to soundproof its rooms. The tenant, partnered by the powerful Federation of Trade Unions, has not done this to the satisfaction of those one floor above.

Our city's urban noise control measures apply mainly to construction sites, industrial buildings, air conditioners and traffic. As the EPD points out on its website, Hong Kong is at the best of times a noisy city and everyone is invariably affected. Frustrations abound - it is the most complained about environmental matter in our city. But while we all want a quieter place in which to live, officials face constraints.

Laws could be updated, but there will always be someone who says that rules are not tough enough. However, while the government has to do all it can to keep laws relevant, noise is not our biggest environmental concern. EPD officers should be putting the bulk of their efforts towards dealing with air pollution, waste management and keeping the waters around our city safe and clean. We have to be as tolerant and understanding as possible to our neighbours - and if that fails, there is always the legal system.