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A passion to help

Private consultant Mike Stigwood learnt his skills at local authorities before deciding to go it alone. Now the satisfaction comes from knowing he's solved someone's problem. Tom Wall reports

Mike Stigwood is passionate about environmental health. His 31 years experience in the public and private sector has done nothing to dim his enthusiasm for issues such as noise nuisance, food safety and public health.

'It is an all-consuming passion. At the moment I'm passionate about wind farms because the government has got the guidance wrong. We've got clients who can't sleep in their house at night. It's appalling. I'm passionate we are going to resolve the problem,' he says.

Mike plans to stay at their house to experience the noise for himself. He believes it is sometimes the only way to adequately assess a nuisance. 'I shall go and stay there. I don't suggest EHOs can do this very often working for local authorities but there is no better way to establish how bad a nuisance is than to go and stay at a property for a couple of days,' he says.

Mike runs his own private consultancy firm, MAS Environmental, and has been involved in some of the biggest noise nuisance cases in recent years.

But he began his career as a trainee EHO at sleepy Cambridge City Council in 1975. After he qualified he moved to Hackney LBC. It was the perfect opportunity to put his training into practice and he quickly gained experience in many different fields.

'I was involved doing food safety, health and safety and nuisance. There were dangerous lifts, the storage of large qualities of liquefied petroleum gas, restaurant with filthy kitchens and general nuisance problems from large accumulations of waste to illegal encampments,' he recalls

In the 1980s Mike moved to Huntingdon DC, where he continued to work in a variety of areas, including a spell as a meat inspector. But it could not have been more different from Hackney. Huntingdon was a rural authority and much more bureaucratic. He remarks: 'In Hackney you were very much your own boss but in Huntingdon in order to take action you needed the authority of the chief officer.'

Mike started to specialise in noise nuisance at Huntingdon and undertook additional training in acoustics. It is a subject some EHOs struggle with but he says he relished the technical challenge: 'I became very interested and I took on the role of adviser to the council in terms of noise issues.'

This role continued at Stevenage, where he moved after Huntingdon, and his final public-sector job at Mid Bedfordshire. It was there he decided to start a new life as a private consultant in 1994: 'It was a scary thing to do because I left without a prepared client list.'

Luckily he found work through word of mouth but his breakthrough came in the mid-1990s when a solicitor called Richard Buxton took him on as an expert witness in the landmark case involving noise from Harrier jump jets.

The owner of a stately home claimed he could not rent out his house because the jets were regularly flying overhead. 'The Harriers would train in circuits and line up using his house. So he had long periods of aircraft flying slowly over the top,' Mike says.

He presented the court with evidence showing the Ministry of Defence had breached a range of noise guidelines. The High Court found in the stately home owner's favour and awarded him compensation Of £4m.

The MOD is not the only behemoth Mike has cut down to size. In 2003, he carried out noise readings for a couple who alleged Alton Tower's theme park had made their lives a misery. They complained they could hear the whirr of machinery, shrieks, music and loudspeaker announcements in their home. Mike estimated they heard, in a season, a quarter of a million screams.

The court was again convinced by Mike's evidence. But Alton Towers has appealed at every stage and the case is due to heard in the High Court in the next couple of months.

Despite his victories, he still dreads appearing in court. He says the trick is to be straightforward and admit your mistakes: 'Do not hide evidence and always be open and honest.'

Mike's firm has grown into a successful business over the years. He now employs his wife and his son, Duncan. He is constantly ing on new cases. But he insists: 'It's not how much money you've got in the bank. It's whether you can have the satisfaction of knowing you've helped someone.' e

MAS Environmental. Mike Stigwood 14 South Road, Impington Cambs CB4 9PB Tel: 01223510430 Email:

To contribute suggestions and stories contact the editor, Will Hatchett. Email:

16 MARCH 2007 ehn

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