Playtime cut for pupils in noise dispute

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2011, 12:00am


Children at a Lantau school hit with a noise-abatement order that has just been upheld by the High Court will have their playtime shortened by 15 minutes.

According to a notice posted on the gates of Lantau International School (LIS) when children left at 3pm yesterday they will be able to play for only 30 instead of 45 minutes.

After a ruling by the court on Monday, the Pui O school faces substantial fines if it does not keep the noise reaching surrounding houses below 60 decibels.

'A judge has decided that there was nothing wrong with a government decision to limit the noise of children playing at recess time between 12pm and 12.45pm,' supervisor Serge Berthier said in announcing the playtime curb.

He said the school would let 'the parents and the public assess the fairness of the decision, knowing that the children of a public school, 250 metres away from LIS, are not and will never be subjected to the same limitation'.

Rushing outside and reading the notice, a boy said: 'I heard that we will have to be quieter. But we are a school. So we are basically noisy.'

The private school admits international and local pupils aged seven to 11.

Monday's ruling was the culmination of a dispute that began in 2007 when a neighbour of the school in Lo Wai Tsuen, Pui O, complained that children playing in the backyard of the village blocks housing the classrooms were too noisy.

Two noise abatement notices were issued after the Environmental Protection Department found in November 2008 that the noise intensity was slightly above the limit of 60 decibels. After two unsuccessful appeals to the Noise Control Appeal Board, Berthier sought a review by the High Court.

The Environmental Protection Department said yesterday that the noise limit of 60 decibels was applied to measurements at the location of the person affected, not at the source of the noise.

'As sound dissipates over distance, if the noise level at the complainant's premises is 60 decibels, the noise level at the source within the school premises would be higher,' it said. The department measured the noise only once.

Environmental health expert Professor Wong Tze-wai said 60 decibels was the level of a normal conversation but that did not mean it would not cause annoyance.

'Annoyances are very subjective,' said Wong, co-director of Chinese University's centre for occupational and environmental health studies. Children shouting, even at 60 decibels, could be annoying, he said. 'We are talking about mental health, not physical health.'

Les Staples, owner of a bar two houses away, said he never noticed substantial noise coming from the school. 'My bar is noisier,' said the London native.

Australian father Cosmo Richards, who came to pick up his Primary Four child, said the school had been singled out for no reason.

'This affair has been blown out of proportion,' he said, noting that Pui O public school, 250 metres away had not had any such trouble.

Pui O school head Yu Mei-fung said that unlike the international school, hers was separate from homes and had more space. The school, which has 133 pupils, uses an electronic bell and a public announcement system. Yu said they now let the bell ring for only 10 seconds.

'A few months ago, the Environmental Protection Department came to measure the noise in our premises after some residents complained.' The noise intensity was below 60 decibels.