Noise pollution levels spur call for action

Tackling the pervasive problem of noise pollution is top of the agenda in LAWE's annual special review of nuisance in all its main forms, including odour and pest control. New research shows how noise continues to blight the environment prompting calls for more action to implements an effective noise strategy.

Excessive noise remains one of the most disturbing and distressing forms of nuisance according to the latest studies published to coincide with Noise Action Day held on 22 May. Promoted by NSCA (National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection) the action day was backed by over 200 local authorities across the UK.

According to Environment Minister Michael Minister there is still a lot to do, particularly about noisy neighbours.

He was addressing the first conference of the UK Noise Forum, held at the CIEH, where he announced the results of the outcome of three major pieces of DEFRA research on how noise is changing in the UK, what noises people see as problems and what can be done to minimise them.

Mr Meacher said: "The general findings from this latest research are encouraging in that overall outdoor noise levels remained almost constant over the past decade. But we must not be complacent: people's perception does seem to be that noise - especially from neighbours - has got worse in some respects. We will continue to try and find ways to address particular problems created by noise."

Research on noise
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has been undertaking two pieces of research, the Noise Incidence Study (NIS) and the Noise Attitudes Survey (NAS), following up identical surveys to those carried out by them on behalf of the Department in 1990 and 1991. At the same time DEFRA, as part of an ongoing commitment to ensure that UK legislation provides the most effective possible framework to control noise nuisance, has carried out a review of European legislation and practices relating to neighbour and neighbourhood noise.

Amongst the findings of the research, which included a survey of more than 5,000 people, were:

  • 21% of respondents reported that noise spoilt their home life to some extent, with 8% of respondents reporting that their home life was spoilt either "quite a lot" or "totally"
  • 84% of respondents heard road traffic noise and 40% were bothered, annoyed or disturbed to some extent
  • 28% of respondents reported that road traffic noise at their homes had got worse in the last five years: this should be considered alongside the trends in noise level and noise exposure found in the National Noise Incidence Survey 00/01
  • 81% of respondents heard noise from neighbours and/or other people nearby and 37% were bothered, annoyed or disturbed to some extent
  • the proportion of respondents who reported being adversely affected by noise from neighbours has increased from 21% to 26% over the last 10 years, whilst for all other categories of environmental noise the proportion adversely affected has remained unchanged
  • only a small proportion of respondents who were bothered by noise from neighbours complained to the environmental health department of the local authority, which means that noise complaint statistics may greatly underestimate the extent of community dissatisfaction

NSCA calls for action
According to its National Noise Survey 2002, published on 22 May, NSCA says "Neighbour noise is still a huge problem across the UK with little prospect of improvement." The survey was sent to all Chief Environmental Health Officers in the UK during March 2002, asking their opinions on noise complaints, current and proposed legislation, dispute resolution and future policies for managing noise.

Main findings are:

  • amplified music continues to be the major source of noise complaint, closely followed by barking dogs
  • incompatible lifestyles of neighbours and high expectation of quiet are the reason for complaints
  • better education on expectation of noise and more considerate behaviour are seen be to the way to social harmony, in preference to more stringent laws
  • mediation is an effective way of addressing some disputes
  • over 80% of local authorities want better sound insulation
  • a review of legislation and policy is urgently needed to prevent any further deterioration in our quality of life as a result of noise "Noise complaints remain at a very high level compared with the early 1990s," said Richard Mills, Secretary General NSCA. "We need action now to formulate solutions to a widespread public health problem. It is important that the Government's proposals on a national noise strategy address neighbour noise."

    Responding to the survey findings, NSCA is calling for:

  • the development of an improved nationally applicable method for recording noise complaints

  • promotion and publicity for innovative methods of managing neighbour noise and a higher profile for noise issues within government

  • better guidelines and enhanced resources for the enforcement of noise legislation

  • improved awareness raising and education campaigns on noise by both central and local government

  • introduction of pre-completion testing on noise insulation for all new residential buildings, and research into cost effective methods for improving the existing housing stock

  • a full legislative review for noise, including the possible introduction of local authority powers with regard to airports

  • a comprehensive National Noise Strategy, including a national action plan on environmental noise and coordinated policy for addressing neighbourhood noise.


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