NGO’s believe new noise directive should be tougher

Two environmental NGO’s have welcomed the European Commission’s proposal for a Framework Directive on noise, but criticise it for being insufficiently tough. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and The Federation of Transport and Environment (T&E) say that the directive has failed to provide noise limit values, and it must broaden its scope to include all people suffering from noise pollution.

According to the EEB and the T&E, a directive is urgently needed to counter the increasing number of noise complaints each year. Presently, they say, only a minority of member states have fully integrated noise policies, and in recent years none have implemented a consistent noise abatement plan.

“We need a stronger approach against the ‘annoyance factor number one’ of EU citizens,” said John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB.

Environmental noise as emitted by transport, industry and recreation, is reducing the health and the quality of life of at least 25% of the European Union’s population, says the European Commission. In spite of existing legislation on permitted noise levels in the domestic environment within member states, and in spite of existing EU legislation on the reduction of noise emission from individual sources, the number of people suffering from noise is increasing, says the EC.

“Noise is a problem that affects each of us and many people suffer from noise,” said European Environment Commissioner, Margot Wolstrom. “With this proposal we want to ensure systematic monitoring of noise at local, national and EU levels. This should be based on a common approach and citizens should be informed. We need to create pressure and indeed oblige the Member States to carry out action plans to reduce noise where it is considered unacceptable.”

Although the new directive does improve the reporting requirements of member states on noise, providing a basis for setting regional or local noise reduction strategies, it provides little in the way of setting policies, say the EEB and T&E.

The concerns of the NGO’s relate to the following points:

  • the absence of any numerical values defining noise quality classes;
  • neighbourhood or industrial noise is not included;
  • action plans will only be devised for highly populated areas;
  • the definition for airports will exclude many small but noisy airports;
  • the directive is not concerned with noise from roads which are smaller than four lanes, and have less than two million vehicles a year.

Early drafts of the directive contained noise limit values, which were based on research concerning annoyance, and guidance from the World Health Organisation, but these have now been removed.

The NGO’s are calling for the development of the concept of ‘sensitive zones’, which would include all residential areas, and should be protected by noise limits. Noise maps and action plans should be prepared if the area’s population is shown to be suffering from unacceptable noise disturbance.

Research has shown that aircraft noise is more annoying than other transport noise, say the EEB and T&E. Airport use is also prone to strong seasonal variations, they say, especially where charter operations are commonplace, and this should be taken into account.

“The directive must really do something for all citizens suffering from aircraft noise – independently of how big airports are,” said Beatrice Schell, Director of T&E.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie