Noise pollution drives people from homes

Huge numbers of people claim that unwanted noise is making their lives miserable and many have taken extreme measures to avoid it, some going as far as moving house.

Published to coincide with Noise Action Week, which runs from May 21 to May 25, a survey commissioned by the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) demonstrates that for many people unwanted noise is far more than a minor annoyance.

According to the poll the majority of us, 70%, are bothered by noise in our neighbourhoods while almost half of us, 45%, say it has a significant impact on our lives.

Two percent of those questioned claimed to have been driven from their homes by noisy neighbours, finding themselves forced to relocate.

But despite the obvious effect it is having on millions of Britons, noise is not seen in the same light as other kinds of pollution which have a direct, measurable impact on health and the environment.

But Mary Stevens, a spokesperson for the NSCA, told edie that noise pollution should be considered a genuine hazard.

“The whole issue is that it’s hard to quantify, the effects are quite insidious but millions of Europeans are affected by it,” she said.

“Obviously there are links between psychological and physiological problems – noise causes stress and that can have a knock on effect leading to cardiovascular problems.”

She went on to say that there were also extreme cases of normally-stable people being driven to violence by noise and an abundance of studies on how noise affected children’s concentration when trying to learn, and thus having a negative impact on their education.

Also, she added, there is not yet a full understanding of the medical consequences of being barraged by noise.

“In the early days of air pollution it was quite difficult to identify cause and effect and this is the situation now with noise pollution,” said Ms Stevens.

One of the biggest problems, she said, was that many people felt there was no escape from noise, with one percent of those surveyed saying they had nowhere quiet to go to relax – a figure rising to five percent in the biggest cities.

Progress is being made in this area, she said, and under the EU’s Environmental Noise Directive governments are required to undertake noise mapping and then follow that up with noise action plans.

In the UK this means that 23 conurbations are being mapped

Defra has asked the Transport Research Laboratory to investigate this but due to time constraints only existing data, not the new maps, will be used.

This means that large parks are likely to become the first protected oases of calm.

Even that is not without problems, said Ms Stevens, as there might be welcome occasions when a park could be used to stage a major – noisy – event or it may be under a flight path which would be out of the control of those who had designated it a quiet area.

“It can be confusing for the public,” she said.

“There’s lots of thinking going on at the moment but it hasn’t developed into anything concrete yet.”

Sam Bond

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