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Environment minister Michael Meacher today launches a consultation ...
Environment minister Michael Meacher today launches a consultation

exercise which will help develop a strategy to tackle ambient noise -

noise which disturbs people living near airports, railways, major

roads, factories and other transport and industrial sites.

The three-month consultation exercise follows the commitment in the

rural white paper to develop an ambient noise strategy. It recognises

the need to develop an integrated and targeted approach to noise at

local and national level. It will give special consideration to areas

which have traditionally enjoyed a tranquil environment, found mainly

in rural areas.

The government envisages a three-phase approach:

Phase One:

- Gathering information on the ambient noise climate in the country.

In simple terms, identifying the numbers of people affected by

different levels of noise, their locations and the source of that

noise - a process known as noise mapping.

- Establishing methods which the government might use to assess the

effects of noise - particularly regarding people's quality of life.

Special consideration will be given to the identification and

preservation of 'tranquil environments'.

Identifying the potential techniques to either reduce background

noise or, where appropriate, to ensure noise levels do not increase.

- Research into rigorous cost-benefit analysis of potential


Phase Two:

- prioritising alternatives identified in Phase One and discussion of

costs and benefits, time-scales and co-ordination with other

government initiatives.

Phase Three:

- seeking agreement on the necessary policies to move towards the

National Ambient Noise Strategy. The consultation will be an

opportunity to gather information about neighbour noise, though

this has been tackled by a variety of previous legislation and will

not form a central part of the strategy.

It will also help to prepare for a European Union directive on the

assessment and management of environmental noise, expected to be

agreed next year.

The government has already committed£13m to begin development of

detailed maps of noise across England. This continues work which saw

Birmingham become the first city to produce detailed noise maps two

years ago.

Noise mapping for international and regional airports in England has

been carried out, both routinely and according to the requirements of

planning applications, for many years. The DTLR annually commissions

daytime noise contours for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports,

which are regulated under s.78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Elsewhere, airports themselves generally take responsibility for

contouring, on a voluntarity basis.

Mr Meacher said: 'Despite the significant steps which have been taken

to address the levels of noise from individual vehicles and other

sources, including very substantial reductions in noise exposure at

the busiest airports, there is evidence that the levels of noise to

which people are exposed in their local communities are not getting

significantly better. As part of the government's commitment to

improving people's quality of life, I am pleased that we are able to

set in train this important initiative.

'The gathering of information about noise will identify how many

people are affected, to what extent, and where they live. We will

need to improve our understanding of how different levels of noise

affect people's quality of life and well-being. Extensive mapping is

a huge task, and we don't expect the first stage to be completed

until 2004. At the same time, we must develop the techniques

available to improve the situation where it is bad, or preserve it

where it is good. Economic analysis and prioritisation can then

enable us to agree on the policies necessary for action.'

1) The Rural White paper 'Our countryside the future - a fair deal

for rural England' (November 2000), is available on the DEFRA website. The draft proposals for

the directive relating to the assessment and management of

environmental noise are available on the European Commission's


2) The types of noise that are experienced can be classified into

some fairly broad categories: occupational noise (experienced at

work); neighbour or neighbourhood noise (caused by people in or

around their homes); and ambient noise (sometimes called

'environmental noise,' generated mainly by transport and industry).

3) The problems caused by the first two types of noise have been

addressed by government action. Health and safety legislation

addresses occupational noise. Neighbour noise is tackled by a

combination of specific legislation which provides local authorities

with powers and duties which enable them to deal with 'noisy


4) Ambient noise has been addressed by a combination of reducing the

level of noise generated by individual vehicles, aircraft etc,

traffic management schemes, and addressing noise at the planning

stages of new noise generating or noise sensitive developments

(planning authorities must have regard to the DTLR planning guidance

note, PPG 24 (Planning and Noise)). Such action has considerably

reduced the output of noise from individual sources but often failed

to reduce the overall ambient noise because of other factors, such as

the growth in the number of vehicles on our roads.

5) The ambient noise strategy consultation document is not related in

substance or timing to the Hatton European Court of Human Rights

ruling or the Heathrow Terminal Five announcement.

6) It is anticipated that results of the consultation will be

available by early summer.

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