Guidance for licensees on how to prevent public nuisance

Complete Licensing has produced this guide to help you understand what the main public nuisance issues are likely to be for your business, how to assess their impact and how to control them. A self-assessment checklist is provided at the end of the notes to assist you.

If you require advice on the interpretation and compliance with the Licensing Act 2003 or other legislation that affects your business, you are recommended to consult Complete Licensing’s Environmental Health Expert, David Nevitt.


Public nuisance is a broad concept, which concerns how the activity of one person (or business) affects the rights of another – e.g. how noise from playing music interferes with another person’s right to sleep.

The degree to which activities are likely to cause public nuisance will depend on several factors, including:

  • The time of day/night when they take place
  • How frequently activities take place
  • How near people that may be affected are and the existing background noise levels
  • The design, structure and layout of your premises
  • How well the activities are managed


This guide concentrates on four specific areas associated with licensed premises that need to be addressed in order to prevent public nuisance:

  1. Noise
  2. Odour
  3. Litter, waste and street fouling
  4. Light pollution


As well as routine activities, you should also bear in mind temporary or one-off events such as parties and bank holiday arrangements can cause problems and may require greater management control.

You should also bear in mind the need to comply with other legal requirements e.g. structural works which may need planning and building control approval, or your present planning permission may restrict the hours when you can open – having a licence does not override other regulatory controls.


A common cause of complaints about licensed premises due to noise. Typical noise sources arising directly from operational activities include:

  • Sound amplification systems, live music and entertainment
  • Ventilation and air-conditioning units
  • Chiller-units and beer pumps
  • Handling of barrels, kegs, cylinders and bottles outside
  • Vehicles (including taxis and delivery vehicles) and customers
  • Customers, both inside and outside the premises
  • Outdoor play areas and beer gardens
  • Fireworks

If your premises is near to or adjoining other sensitive occupied premises such as residential dwellings or offices there is a risk that they will be adversely affected by noise from your operation, especially if the local area is largely residential or ‘quiet’ in character. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are using best practicable means to reduce noise.

Noise can be caused by outdoor activities such as outside tables and chairs, beer gardens, terraces and open-air events. It can also include waste collections and deliveries to and from the premises, customer drop-off/collection (e.g. UBER), queueing to get into the premises, and external mechanical plant (A/C plant, extract ventilation etc.).


A common problem is that of ‘noise breakout’ and there are usually two issues:

  1. Noise inside the premises leaking out to the local area (typically called ‘airborne’ noise). This could be due to loud music or general hubbub of customers inside.
  2. Noise inside the premises which is transmitted through the structure of the building to a sensitive receiver (typically called ‘structure-borne’ noise). A good example might be a bass-bin speaker sending heavy bass through a wall to next door or to a flat above.

You can take practical steps to reduce the risk of causing nuisance.

  • Greater control measures are needed for premises that have regular entertainment, and/or where the venue is operated late at night (after 11pm).
  • Keep windows, doors etc. closed – do not however forget that for health and safety reasons it is very important to ensure the premises is properly ventilated and access to emergency exits is not restricted. 
  • Provide acoustically treated ventilation/air conditioning – avoiding the need for opening windows. 
  • Use a sound-lobby (with two sets of self-closing doors) at the entrance / exit of premises.
  • Locate speakers, musicians and sound sources in a different part of the premises e.g. to the basement or to an area where there is less likelihood of direct escape of sound to the outside.
  • Fit a noise limiter device so that you can properly control maximum noise levels rather than just rely on a DJ. Ask your sound engineer to adjust the sound system and ‘trim out’ some of the lower frequencies which could be causing a problem. You could also ask the engineer to look at the configuration of the speakers to ‘zone’ the sound output in different parts of the premises.
  • Use in-house speakers rather than artist and DJ speaker systems. 
  • Provide sound insulation to emergency exit doors and extractor fans. 
  • Keep speakers within the premises, and do not position them near to openings such as doors or windows. 
  • Do not deliberately play, or direct music outside the premises as a means of attracting custom. 

You could seek some technical advice to help with the following:

  • Provide sound insulated enclosures to external plant and machinery. Make sure that external plant is properly serviced and is working efficiently.
  • Provide sound insulation to ventilation ductwork and outlets.
  • Use anti-vibration mountings for speakers.
  • Use resilient matting and handling aids for the movement of barrels, cylinders, bottles etc. Take a look at other products – some drinks are provided in smaller-sized containers rather than large kegs/barrels.
  • Provide solid fencing/barriers around car parking, play areas and beer gardens etc.

A word of advice: don’t just rely on your mate or a local handyman to help with some of these things – there can be technical implications and ‘obvious’ solutions may not work too well.

Ensure all staff, DJs and artists understand your noise control requirements – provide training. 


Some operational considerations:

  • Ensure all staff, DJs and artists understand your noise control requirements – provide training.
  • Operate at realistic times, which will not impact on others.
  • Use different finishing times for different parts of your operation – e.g. finish entertainment earlier than alcohol or food sales. 
  • Play relaxing or calming music towards the end of an event and allow customers to leave the premises naturally rather than being ushered out immediately after an event has finished.
  • Use outdoor areas at reasonable times and do not remove waste and bottles late at night. Take care over when outside areas are serviced – the customers may all depart at 11pm but staff might be outside moving/stacking chairs, sweeping/cleaning etc at 1am which could be a real source of disturbance to neighbours.
  • Use signs to advise patrons and staff to be quiet when leaving premises. Ban people from the premises who do not cooperate.
  • Consider designating a specific taxi firm, who you know will behave responsibly, for staff and customers to use and ensure taxi drivers do not use the vehicle horn to attract attention when collecting passengers.
  • Arrange for deliveries to be made at reasonable times. Discuss with your suppliers the possible options for different types of vehicle – a smaller van rather than a large rigid might make a big difference.
  • Carry out regular monitoring checks to ensure noise is being adequately controlled. This may include manager walking the area/streets around the premises. Bear in mind that if you have been working in a noisy environment and then step outside to carry out ‘noise checks’ it will take a while for your ears to adjust to the lower levels. This will allow you to gain a more accurate assessment.
  • Make sure that when staff take a ‘fresh air’/cigarette break they don’t just stand/sit under the neighbour’s bedroom window chatting on their phone in the early hours.

You are advised to seek a specialist noise consultant in such circumstances. Complete Licensing can help if you need.

You may find it useful to refer to the following publications about controlling noise:-

  • The Institute of Acoustics Guide: “Good Practice Guide on the Control of Noise from Pubs and Clubs” – tel. 01727 848 195.
  • The British Beer & Pub Association Guide: “Effective Management of Noise from Licensed Premises” – tel. 020 7627 9191.

Special note: Employers have a duty under health and safety law to protect their employees from hearing damage caused by excessive noise. DJs, bar staff and others working in areas where loud amplified music is played are particularly at risk. If you employ staff who work in a noisy environment you are required assess their level of noise exposure and protect them from noise which could cause hearing damage. This requirement is part of your duty under health and safety legislation and is not directly related to the Licensing Act and need not form part of your application or operating schedule.


The main sources of odour from licensed premises are due to waste and bottle storage areas, drainage systems, and discharged air from kitchen extraction systems.



Controlling odour from waste and bottle storage areas is by good management practice including: 

  • Using sealed waste bins with close fitting lids.
  • Arranging that waste is collected on a regular basis by a reputable/licensed waste carrier.
  • Screening waste storage areas from sight and making sure the area can be properly cleaned and has adequate drainage.
  • Using a regular cleaning programme for all storage areas and waste bins.



Odour comes from blocked and inadequately vented drainage systems and can be avoided by: 

  • Ensuring food waste is not put into the drainage system.
  • Providing grease-trap(s) to the drainage outlet from kitchens.
  • Regularly clean grease-traps and drainage systems, especially outside drainage traps.
  • Ventilating the head of the drainage system is at a high level using a vent stack.



Most commercial kitchens will require a mechanical extraction system, and the type and size will depend on the size of the cooking facility, type of food prepared and type of cooking appliances used. You may need to get advice from specialist air handling engineers about controlling odour from kitchen air extraction systems.

Key issues when installing air extraction equipment that must be taken into account are: 

  • The extracted air should be discharged at a high level, taking into account other buildings in the area – we recommend at least 1metre above highest point of the licensed premises, or other nearby buildings. The discharge may also be directed away from known sensitive neighbours and in ways that will optimise dilution of odour. Some local authorities will take into account the height of nearby building within a 20m or 50m range.
  • The air being extracted from the cooking area should be replaced by clean air into the kitchen – ideally supplied by mechanical means. This is called ‘make up air’ and would normally be 75%/80% of what is extracted so that there is always a slight negative air pressure in the kitchen. This will reduce the likelihood of odours escaping into the rest of your premises and to the outside. Opening windows and doors should be avoided.
  • The extraction system should be designed to ensure the flow of air is not restricted by acute angles in ductwork, dirty filters, inadequate fans and cowls at the exit point.
  • Using grease filters and other odour control techniques such as carbon filters, electrostatic precipitation, scrubbers and neutralising agents etc. Specialist advice should be taken on the suitability of such techniques.
  • Noise from fan/motor housings should be contained within the building if possible but should be acoustically treated and/or enclosed does not cause a nuisance to others. It is a good idea to make sure that maintenance staff or contractor can safely and conveniently access the ductwork for cleaning and maintenance.
  • Effective and regular programme of cleaning and maintenance is of vital importance. Most professional ductwork cleaning contractors will provide a certificate for duct cleaning/de-greasing work.

When installing ductwork ask the Planning and Building Control departments of the Council to find out if you need permission. (see the Contact List at the end for details)

In addition to the above, you should take care to ensure cooking odours do not filter through the building structure into adjoining premises by sealing gaps around services in party walls and ceilings.

Mobile traders should think carefully about where they site their vehicle in order to avoid odour problems.

Take care over outdoor events and activities such as BBQs: if yours site is located close to sensitive neighbours or in a dense urban location  we recommend the use of a LPG gas BBQ rather than charcoal or wood in order to reduce nuisance from smoke.

The main guidance document on this subject is the Nuisance smells: how councils deal with complaints.


Licensed premises of all types can potentially cause public nuisance from litter and waste. There are a number of laws relating to proper waste collection and disposal, not least of which is the “duty of care” to ensure any waste is properly contained and controlled while in the operator’s possession, and that it is collected by a reputable waste carrier. The Licensing Act does not duplicate these laws, but you will need to show that you have good waste management practices in order to prevent public nuisance.

Fouling by people urinating, vomiting and even defecating in the street, as well as blood from drink related violence or accidents is becoming an increasing problem – particularly in our town centres. With extended drinking hours, and possible increased alcohol consumption, the potential for such anti-social behaviour is much greater. Clearly the individuals concerned are ultimately responsible for these actions, which in some cases can result in criminal action being taken. However, you can take action to help prevent this happening and make our streets an attractive environment for all. 

Uncontrolled litter, waste and street fouling is unsightly and can lead to a negative image of the area harm the reputation of your business and the town. In some cases it may cause offensive odour; attract pests and be a public health risk as well as a trip/slip hazard. Broken glass presents a risk to members of the public and to street cleaners.

Typical examples of litter, waste and street fouling that may cause problems include take-away packaging and food dropped by customers; ‘wind-blown” waste and litter rom refuse storage areas; discarded and broken bottles, glasses and cans, promotional leaflets (flyers) and posters; and people who have consumed too much alcohol and urinate and vomit in the street.



  • Arrange a waste collection contract with a specialist contractor.
  • Make sure that there are enough storage facilities for waste to prevent any overspill from containers – we recommend fully contained and lockable bins, which can be thoroughly cleaned and kept away or screened from public areas.
  • Reduce packaging to a minimum and recycle bottles, cans and other waste wherever possible.
  • Set up a litter control plan to assess the scale of the litter problem and carry out litter patrols on a regular basis.
  • Encourage customers to dispose of litter responsibly using posters inside premises and on bins. Discourage customers from leaving premises drinking from open cans and bottles.
  • Arrange for the area around your premises to be cleared of litter and fouling on a regular basis, and always at the close of business.
  • If you are a mobile trader you will need to provide a suitable waste bin and take your waste away for proper disposal.
  • Cut down on the use of promotional leaflets and publicity material. Only hand flyers directly to the public – do not put on vehicle windscreens. Ensure a litter bin is near to the distribution point and clear discarded flyers immediately.
  • Provide clean and accessible toilet facilities for customers and staff to use.
  • Challenge those who foul the area around your premises.

The main guidance document on this subject is Reducing Litter by Food on the Go – Voluntary Code of Practice for the Fast Food Industry.


Outdoor artificial lighting is used for a number of reasons, including for work, recreation, security, safety, advertising, display and to create an pleasant atmosphere where people gather socially. As many of the premises operating under the Licensing Act will use outdoor lighting late at night, it is important to ensure that it does not become a nuisance to others. Light ‘spilling’ onto other property can cause annoyance, distraction and discomfort and may cause driving problems by glaring into drivers’ eyes or competing with signs and other traffic signals. 

The design of larger outdoor lighting installations will need advice from a specialist Lighting Engineer, but you can control even the smallest outdoor installation by:


  • Not “over-lighting” an area – use lighting with an appropriate output for the required purpose. Take particular care when selecting tungsten or halogen lighting.
  • Siting the lighting carefully and aiming the beam away from sensitive premises and transport systems. Take advantage of natural screening and barriers.
  • Using high mounting positions and directing light downwards, rather than mounting it low and using horizontal light beams.
  • Using properly designed screens, baffles, hoods and louvres on lights to control the direction of the light beam.
  • Turning off lighting when no longer required and using timed automatic cut-off switches, but bearing in mind possible safety issues this may create.
  • Ensuring lights activated by sensors are properly set and used appropriately – i.e. the light is not repeatedly switching on and off, as this itself may cause annoyance.


Special Note: You may wish to provide additional security lighting to poorly lit areas around your premises in order to improve safety and deter crime. You are encouraged to do so as this is a key aim of the Licensing Act – just take care that the lighting does not cause nuisance to others.

The main guidance document on this subject is the Guide on the Limitation of the Obtrusive Effects of Obtrusive Light from Outdoor Lighting Installations.