Since launching our competition to find the noisiest road in the UK on 6 February we have been flooded with applications. We have travelled the length and breadth of the country listening to noisy roads. It has been an almost impossible job to select the Top Twelve. How do you compare life under a flight path with Brands Hatch? The roar of a motorway with the night-time noise of pubs and clubs? Rat-running traffic with firework displays?
There were a few surprises. Not as many motorway nominations as we might have expected. The M6 through Birmingham was not nominated. Nor were motorway-type roads like the A1 through Newcastle or the A13 in London. Nor was the notorious A30 near Honiton in Devon nominated. We also expected more nominations from villages and small towns straddling main roads. There were remarkably few of them.
London roads have featured prominently in the final placings. Inevitable, perhaps, given the sheer level of traffic in the capital and the dominating presence of Heathrow Airport.
A few roads that were just outside the top 12 (in no particular order):
Southside St, The Barbican, in Plymouth: 'close to fairground displays, at least 12 nights of organised firework displays a year, loud music from pubs and clubs plus rock concerts, power boat races ... and the Lord Mayor's Parade.'
Heathfield Road in Plymouth: 'excessive noise from trains which are having their engines warmed up from 12 midnight to 7am.'
Teesdale Rd, in Ridgeway near Sheffield: 'used to be a quiet road, now 80% of the traffic takes our road to get to the Sheffield Ring Road.'
Boldon Lane in South Shields - the vicar of St Peter and Paul Church wrote: 'from 6.00am 'til after midnight this is a thoroughfare for all emergency vehicles, buses, cars, empty skip wagons from the adjacent council depot and freight wagons from other parts of town. It is commonplace in celebrating the church's liturgies each day to have to stop and wait for the noise outside to pass!'
Bagley Lane, Leeds: 'a 50% increase over the past 3 years in commercial traffic that uses it as a rat-run'.
Walsall St, Willenhall, West Midlands: 'combination of HGVs and local industry combine to create a constant low level background noise that affects the pupils of the local primary school and the properties aligning the road.'
Walmley Ash Road, Sutton Coldfield: 'major rat-run to the M42, a residential road with 3 primary schools on it'.
The Top Twelve
12. The A180, outside Grimbsy
The section of the road between the villages of Habrough and Stallingborough. The road carries the traffic to Immingham Docks. Residents say they can't sit in their gardens or open their windows because of the noise. They are pleading to have the road resurfaced, but the Highways Agency has told them nothing will be done until 2005 at the earliest.
11. Station Road in Keighley in West Yorkshire
A 'rat-run' for avoiding a level crossing which is closed, on average, 40 minutes out of 60 with 12,000 plus vehicles per day. At the back of the homes, a freight depot. Within earshot of the gardens, the Aire Valley Trunk Road, Skipton Road and a roundabout with 5 exits.
10. Haydn Terrace, Merthyr Tydfil
Not so much traffic noise, but ... 'latchkey dogs which bark most of the day and night, even when there is nothing to bark at; morons riding around the rough ground at the back ad nauseum on the noisiest bikes in Britain for hours on end, gangs hanging around on the street ... and, at this end of the street, we all live in prefabs with walls of the thinnest materials, so God help you if you have loud neighbours.'
9. Bawtry Road, Sheffield
The scene shifts back to Yorkshire. Next to the M1 motorway, junction 34, the exit for the vast Meadowhall shopping complex, this residential road carries a steady stream of fast-moving traffic heading for the motorway. Sandwiched between Bawtry Road and the motorway are two schools - Infants and Juniors - whose playgrounds get the noise from both roads.
8. Headingley Lane / Otley Road in Leeds
Constant traffic. 'Said to be the busiest street in Leeds.' It is also in the heart of the university area: 'there are umpteen pubs along the route, bursting at the seams with hordes of students, and out of these places howls the thud, thud thud of loud music.' It also lies under the flight path to/from Leeds-Bradford Airport.
7. Hever Avenue, Brands Hatch
'This road is situated adjacent to Brands Hatch Racing Circuit, probably the only circuit in the world built so close to residential properties, 'wrote Mrs Pearson who nominated her road. 'Some properties back onto the circuit, the closest being only metres from the actual Grand Prix Racing Track, with only a wooden board fence to give any protection from noise.' Mrs Pearson went on to explain that between February and November the circuit is in use most days, with the major racing events taking place at weekends throughout the summer months.
6. Stockport Road/Manchester Road in Manchester
Constant noise as traffic approaches the M60 motorway. 'The M60 motorway was opened up in 2000, great everyone said, less traffic. No, no, no, not on our bit there isn't. They have got to get on to the motorway somehow and it's right past our houses. It is also on the main road to Manchester. The noise goes on from 5.00am to 1.00am, giving us about 4 hours quiet.' Joy Boulter, who nominated the road, added: 'We also have the main Ashton police station across the road, the fire stationto the right of us and the ambulance station to the left. We are also on the flight path to Manchester International Airport.' The volumes of traffic were greater than in Tinsley Road and the number of heavy lorries higher than Headingley Road, so Stockport Road gained sixth position.
The Top Five
5. M25 and the motorways of the UK
Fifth spot has been awarded to the UK's motorways. The decibel levels of the traffic noise on motorways like the M25 are higher than any other road. But we got surprisingly few nominations for motorways - maybe because, generally, properties tend not to be situated right beside the roads - an exception to this, the M77 in Glasgow, is dealt with later on. The 3 main motorway nominations came from David Lampert, who nominated the M25, '24 hours of rolling thunder', Mr and Mrs Perry, from Calf Heath near Wolverhampton, who nominated, the M6, 'to have a quiet day is impossible' and the 'Bin the Din' Campaign concerned about the M3 in the villages outside Winchester.
4. Dockwell Close, Heathrow
Inevitably, we received a number of nominations for roads in the Heathrow area. But John Jones made out a good case for Dockwell Close, near Hatton Cross: 'It lies at the end of the Southern Runway of Heathrow Airport and suffers from both take off and landing noise. Residents suffer both acute and chronic noise ranging from Concorde taking off at full throttle to aircraft engine ground testing at night.' Our researcher said, 'At first sight, Dockwell Close seems like a pleasant suburban street. But within 90 seconds it all changes as the roar of a jet overhead shatters any illusion of peace and quiet. Nominated (in a personal capacity) by John Jones, Head of Neighbourhood Enforcement, Hounslow LBC.
3= A4 in West London; A102 (Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach) in East London; M77 in Glasgow
These roads have the characteristics of motorways, but with little of the protection afforded by motorways. Thousands of people live within yards of both the London roads. The Corkerhill Estate is just beside the M77. John Jones describes life beside the A4: 'residents putting up with noise over a 24 hour basis where they can only get through life on a cocktail of sleeping pills.' The person who nominated the A102 in East London who wishes to remain anonymous, said, 'We are not rich in this part of the world. No one listens to us. And, even they did, they wouldn't hear us because of the bleeding traffic!' To make matters worse, sections of the A4 are under the Heathrow flight path and the A102 is close to London City. Joan Mackay, from the Corkerhill Estate, said, 'This monster motorway has made our lives a misery. It was unforgiveable that this motorway when it was built just a few years ago was routed to within yards of our homes to avoid the posh golf course nearby.'
2. Parkfield Road/Lewisham Way, South East London
Night worker Una Tucker, the local resident who nominated the road, said, 'it is part of a one-way system that sees all the traffic heading into the centre of London from this part of the South East pass by our corner. The sheer volume of traffic means there is a drone of non-stop sound. It is especially noisy from 5.30am when the large lorries heading for Central London begin to roar through. But, in addition to the traffic, there are 3 major discos and 4-5 pubs all in the space of a one block radius, plus about half a dozen take-aways that operate through the night. Our landlords are agreeing (in principle!) to triple glazing for us as a matter of health and safety'. Ironically, at present, the area was a little quieter when our researcher visited because some traffic is being diverted temporarily because of road works. But, this road, gets number two spot because the residents have to suffer constant traffic, combined with the worst effects of the 24 hour city and the whine of aircraft manoeuvring onto their flight path to Heathrow (nearly 20 miles away!).
1. The North Circular Road in London
Nothing our researchers experienced matched the thunderous roar of the North Circular. It therefore wins the title of the 'the Noisiest Road in the UK' (see below). Our researcher likened the experience to 'being assaulted by a torrent of noise.' It is a motorway in all but name. But it is a 'motorway' that roars through residential areas. Thousands of people live within yards of the North Circular. Many of them have no protection from the unremitting noise.
Conclusions and Observations
1. The UK is a very noisy place! Ask our shell-shocked researchers!
2. London dominates the list. But, as far as traffic noise is concerned, it is only the main roads in London that tend to be problematic. Many of London's residential roads are relatively free from traffic noise. What spoils many of these residential areas is the noise of aircraft bound for Heathrow. As the number of planes increase, so more areas in the capital are experiencing serious levels of aircraft noise.
3. The advent of the '24-hour city' is beginning to throw up serious noise problems in certain areas.
4. A fair number of the roads nominated were residential roads leading to ring roads or motorways that have opened relatively recently. It appears that not sufficient thought is given to this 'knock-on' effect of building major new roads.
5. Noise problems are very often related to income levels - the majority of roads featured in the top twelve had a higher than average number of households earning less than the average income.
6. On a number of roads the noise from traffic could be cut through the introduction of quieter road surfaces, which many of the residents are calling for, and/or lower speed limits.
7. In certain areas, noisy neighbours or noise from one-off events such as firework displays, can be the source of the greatest annoyance.
1. Government should speed up its programme to introduce quieter road surfaces. Modern asphalt is quieter by about 4 decibels in dry conditions and 8 decibels in the wet. A reduction in 3 decibels is equivalent to either halving the volume of traffic or doubling the distance of the listener from the road. The government is committed to spending£5m a year over the next 10 years to introduce quieter surfaces on 60% of the nation's road network. We recommend that it should change that to£10m a year for the next 5 years.
2. Noise considerations should feature in all government policies on speed. The 40 mph limit on roads such as the North Circular or Bawtry Road in Sheffield (essentially a residential road) added to noise levels. We recommend that, where there are noise problems from roads passing through residential areas, the maximum permitted speed limit is 30 mph.
3. National traffic reduction targets need to be set. The government has shied away from this, fearing a political backlash. We recognise it is a much more difficult issue to tackle than speed limits or quieter surfaces. But, unless efforts are made to reduce traffic volumes, the roar of traffic on roads like the North Circular will remain little changed.
4. Noise Audits should be required for new developments (shopping centres, airports, motorways etc). These noise audits should not just be confined to the immediate vicinity of the new development. They should cover the knock-on effects on adjacent neighbourhoods. New developments should be refused if they will cause noise levels to rise to unacceptable levels in any neighbourhood.
5. Government should update the planning laws to cover the advent of the '24-hour city'.
6. Government and local authorities should be required to take account of noise issues in policies to tackle social exclusion.
The UK Noise Association can be contacted at Sir John Lyon House, 5 High Timber St, London EC4V 3NS tel 020 7329 0774 or 020 7737 6641, fax 0207 7329 8160, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NORTH CIRCULAR NAMED AS THE NOISIEST ROAD IN THE UK
London's North Circular has been named as the noisiest road in the country. The North Circular topped the poll in a competition organised by the UK Noise Association (1). Hundreds of entries were received from people from right across the country (2).
John Stewart, chair of the UK Noise Association, said, 'The competition has confirmed what a noisy place the UK has become. Coming up with a winner was very difficult. How do you compare life under a flight path with Brands Hatch? Or the roar of a motorway with the night-time noise of pubs and clubs? But we chose the North Circular because nowhere in the country do so many people live so close to such a thunderous roar.'
Stewart added, 'Although noise can affect anybody, it was striking that the noisiest roads were often in the poorest areas, the very places where people cannot afford to move away.'
The UK Noise Association is calling on the government to take speedy action to reduce noise levels. It wants to see quieter road surfaces introduced as a matter of urgency, speed limits to be cut on some roads and national targets to be set to cut traffic levels. It also wants the government to update the planning laws to take account of the '24-hour city' and for noise audits to be compulsory for all new developments, including new airports.
(1). The UK Noise Association was formed 2 years ago. It campaigns on all aspects of noise. Its members include the Noise Network (neighbourhood and domestic noise), HACAN ClearSkies (aircraft noise), the Refined Bitumen Association (traffic noise); Transport 2000, the Civic Trust and the Slower Speeds Initiative.
(2). The competition was launched on 6 February 2002 to find the noisiest road in the country.
The second paragraph of the report outlines the criteria used in judging the entries.