Mayor publishes findings of ambient noise Draft Study

Grove Park residents will find no tangible solution to their anti-noise campaign in the report

Below are edited extracts from the Mayor’s ‘Ambient Noise Strategy’. The extracts are relative to Chiswick’s residents, in particular the Grove Park residents who are campaigning for noise reduction measures to be put in place for the A4/M4 and those locals who have concerns about the Third runway at Heathrow and noise from aircraft.

The overall vision of the strategy is to “minimise the adverse impacts of noise on people living and working in London using the best available practices and technology within a sustainable development framework.” The study covered all areas of London’s noise including transport, aircraft, industry, trains and boats. Also included are findings on aircraft noise and the effects that a third runway at Heathrow airport would have on London. Whilst the study does manage to raise the profile of noise pollution issues, it does not provide conclusive solutions.

• Ambient noise is long term noise from transport and industry. The Mayor’s ambient noise strategy complements existing work by boroughs, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

• This is the first citywide noise strategy of its kind in the UK. The evidence base needs to be improved before clear priorities for cost-effective action can be properly set. First results from computerised noise mapping are expected by the end of 2004, as part of the Government’s five-year process towards a National Ambient Noise Strategy.

• The Mayor’s strategy identifies practical actions and ways forward in the interim, especially in transport and through the planning system.

• The Mayor has been given no new powers or money specifically to control noise. He will work through Transport for London, those with relevant statutory responsibilities, and others, and, as far as possible, integrate noise with other Mayoral policies. Government support will be needed to establish London Funds for pilot exemplar projects, improvements to poorly insulated London housing, and other measures.

• Busy roads, major rail corridors, and aircraft are the main sources of ambient noise in London. In the London Household Survey 2002, 13 % rated noise from road traffic where they lived a ‘serious problem’, compared with aircraft 6% and trains/tubes 2%. Vehicles have become quieter in terms of the official noise test, but urban traffic noise does not generally appear to have fallen.

New approaches

• Resolving tensions between the many different needs and aspirations of people across the city will require a range of responses that will vary by time and place. The noise reduction actually achieved by a measure will depend on whether other noise sources are present, and how strong they are.

• Guideline values produced for the World Health Organization incorporate thresholds using the lowest noise level considered to affect health and wellbeing. Very high levels of noise can damage hearing. However, the levels of ambient or environmental noise experienced by city residents, even close to busy roads or airports, are well below these levels. Wellbeing may be affected by sleep disturbance, stress, and in other indirect ways. However, evidence for the indirect health effects of noise is less conclusive than, for example, air pollutants such as fine particles. Noise can also contribute to inequalities in health. For example, many believe that higher levels of traffic noise are more likely to be experienced by poorer Londoners in areas more affected by busy roads.

• The European Environmental Noise Directive on noise assessment and management was published on 18 July 2002, and the UK Government has set out a series of steps aimed at agreeing national policies by 2007. The immediate priority of this London Ambient Noise Strategy is to use opportunities to take practical action where there is scope, and resources can be found. However, no-one should pretend that it will be quick and easy to reduce noise levels significantly across a big and busy city. London does not yet have a proper estimate of the numbers of people exposed to different levels of ambient noise or of the costs of reducing noise to levels which would solve the problems people experience. It is not realistic to set timescales for achieving target reductions, until the necessary facts, budgets, incentives and legal powers are available. The Mayor will pursue these.

• Aviation growth presents some of the starkest tensions between environment and economy. The Government is responsible for national aviation policy, and for key regulatory decisions relevant to noise from aircraft using Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports. In 2002, the Government carried out public consultation on options for increased runway capacity. Consultation has been extended following a legal challenge over the exclusion of Gatwick from the original consultation. During 2003, an Air Transport White Paper is expected, addressing potential demand over the coming 30 years. The decision will be the Government’s, but the Mayor believes it is highly unlikely that a third runway at Heathrow could be made acceptable to Londoners.

• Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, has major impacts on London. When the Secretary of State gave planning approval for a fifth terminal at Heathrow Airport in November 2001, he imposed, on a precautionary basis, a limit of 480,000 flights each year, compared with some 460,000 in 2000. The Secretary of State said he was not legally entitled to change the night noise regime without consultation, and undertook to consult on it by 2003 at the latest.

• The Mayor shares with many residents the considerable concern about night flights and supports the view that night flights should be banned. He supported and funded, along with local authorities and community organisations, a case taken on behalf of residents affected by night noise to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court found against the UK Government who appealed the decision in 2001.

April 4, 2003

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