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Málaga’s Decibel Dilemma

Man holds hands over ears because of noise at his home in malaga

Málaga’s Noise Regulations: A Decade of Debate and Discrepancies

Believe it or not, for the past decade, the City Council of Málaga in Spain’s Andalucía has adopted a more lenient approach to noise measurement compared to regional regulations. Of course, some bar owners would not agree, however, the following text is the latest news on this ‘noisy’ subject!

Back in 2014, the Sustainability Department introduced a technical instruction to apply adjustments in noise measurements for activities or facilities. This instruction excluded background noises not covered by Andalucian (2012) or national (2003) regulations from the final noise calculation.

This divergence means that potential penalties have resulted in more favourable outcomes or less severe sanctions. Licences may have been granted to environments that didn’t fully comply with Andalucian noise control regulations. The difference in measurements, which can be up to 3, 6, or even 9 decibels, according to various experts consulted, stems from calculating background noise penalties, which are already accounted for in Andalucian regulations.

These penalties for tonal, impulsive, and low-frequency components are discounted twice in the total calculation as they are already part of the background noise measurement. Moreover, the criteria and procedures proposed for calculating these penalties are not found in any other current norms or regulations.

It’s important to understand that noise is transmitted in waves, not linearly. Thus, an increase of three decibels effectively doubles the perceived noise. To illustrate, exceeding the permitted level by three decibels is akin to a car speeding at 100 km/h in a zone limited to 50 km/h; six decibels would be like driving at 200 km/h.

In a document issued by the Head of Air Quality Service of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, and Economy of the Andalusian Regional Government, Juan Contreras, it’s stated that while municipalities are responsible for monitoring and disciplining noise pollution, the Decree 6/2012 “does not contemplate the possibility of making two calculations in penalties, but a single calculation on the corrected spectrum (activity functioning minus background noise), since this spectrum is obtained by subtracting background noise.”

Thus, this double measurement of background noise to eliminate penalties by the Málaga City Council would fall outside the decree. However, the Regional Government refrains from asking the Council to cease its application, urging stakeholders to “file administrative appeals against resolutions and acts as appropriate.”

Consequently, a community of residents has lodged a complaint with the Málaga City Council against the technical instruction, challenging the document.

From the Council’s perspective, there is “an interpretative criterion established by the Council’s technicians since July 2014, which all stakeholders can consult on the Area’s website, and so far, there had been no challenge from defendants or complainants. The letter from the homeowners’ community has been received and will be studied. Additionally, a query has been submitted to the Andalusian Government, and its response will be awaited before making any decision.”

The Historical Centre Residents’ Association is considering legal action against the technical instruction. Carlos Carrera, its president, asserts that “if confirmed, it seems extremely serious that a lower-ranking norm could modify the application of regulations less restrictively, not to protect the residents’ health but to leave them more unprotected.” This, Carrera emphasizes, “would mean that reports are being issued stating that the establishment complies when it does not, or that an infraction marked as minor is actually severe.”

It’s worth noting that the Málaga City Council was condemned for its inactivity regarding noise control—in a judgment upheld by the Superior Court of Justice, which is final despite the appeal filed by the Council—due to its inactivity in noise control after being taken to court by residents of Plaza Mitjana.

The judgment highlighted the “embarrassment” caused to the judge due to “a transfer or ‘passing the buck’ of complaints [filed by residents] from one department to another, or directly, inactivity regarding them” by the Málaga City Council.

For Carrera, the use of this technical instruction “is worse than what the judgment says; it’s not just inefficiency, it’s proactively allowing more noise.” “The norm for noise pollution control is meant to ensure that humans are not significantly affected by noise exposure; humans are a vulnerable subject,” he explains.

Málaga, as a tourist destination, offers a blend of cultural richness and scenic beauty. Known for its stunning coastline, vibrant nightlife, and historical landmarks such as the Alcazaba fortress and the Picasso Museum, Málaga attracts visitors from all over the world. With its pleasant Mediterranean climate and diverse culinary scene, it provides a memorable experience for tourists seeking relaxation, exploration, and cultural immersion.

Malaga receives a lot more noise complaints compared to other Spanish cities, more information here:

  • Spain in general has a higher tolerance for noise levels compared to other countries, this means there might be fewer complaints overall.
  • Traffic is the biggest culprit for noise pollution in Spain and Malaga is a busy city with a lot of traffic, this could also be a source of noise complaints.
  • Sixteen percent of households in Spain report noise from neighbors, suggesting that ‘neighbour noise’ is a common issue, and Malaga likely isn’t an exception!


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