HC Deb 19 July 1974 vol 877 cc934-7

(1) Notwithstanding the Noise Insulation Regulations 1973, it shall be the duty of every local authority through which an urban motorway is constructed, to provide noise insulation for all dwellings and schools within 300 metres of the motorway.

(2) Noise insulation within subsection 1 of this section shall be limited to each, and every,—

  1. (a) living room, bedroom and kitchen for dwellings,
  2. (b) classroom for schools.

(3) For the purpose of this section, motorways are those motorways for which the Secretary of State is responsible and were opened after 1st January 1967.

(4) The standard of insulation provided under this section shall not be less than that provided for buildings which are eligible within the Noise Insulation Regulations 1973.—[Mr. Snape.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House will agree that motorway developments in the past decade or so have brought economic advance to the regions and have been economically beneficial to the nation. However, regrettably, economic advances have been made at the expense of residents who are unfortunate enough to live close or immediately adjacent to motorways.

When the Building (Noise Insulation) Regulations were debated in the House on 24th July 1973, the Under-Secretary of State at the time, Mr. Keith Speed, promised that a commonsense flexible approach would be adopted. Regrettably, since those regulations became law a commonsense and flexible approach has not been adopted. I know that in my constituency—and this also applies to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and Walsall, South (Mr. George)—I am inundated by complaints from residents' associations and individual constituents about noise and pollution caused by motorways and by the inflexible approach which has been adopted despite ministerial promises made in 1973.

Is it a flexible and commonsense approach to offer to double glaze a bedroom window but not a lounge window 4 feet below it? Is it a flexible and commonsense approach that a house which is only 35 feet from a motorway is not covered by the regulations because the side of it immediately abutting the motorway consists of a kitchen, bathroom or hall entrance which are not regarded under the regulations as eligible rooms?

It is likely that in the West Midlands generally appeals under the regulations will run into several thousands. Residents in my area and in neighbouring areas are considerably disturbed. The believe that Birmingham, and the West Midlands area generally, is being used to obtain case law on the regulations.

There will be a tough fight by people to get reasonable terms. I realise, as do my hon. Friends who are also concerned with this matter, that the present Government did not make the regulations. My proposal is a common sense and flexible approach which should be used. In the clause we have taken a figure of dwellings and schools within 300 metres of a motorway simply because rate reductions have been allowed in the West Midlands area at such a maximum distance from a motorway. We also propose that living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens as well as classrooms should be included within the provision we suggest. We also propose that the standard of insulation provided should not be less than that provided for under the Noise Insulation Regulations.

We ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that the well being and welfare of our constituents in the West Midlands should take consideration over any financial principles or difficulties which he may see arising from our clause.

Mr. Denis Howell

This is a matter of some importance. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the Government are extremely concerned about this new phenomenon of noise from motorways which have been driven through urban areas. I went to my hon. Friend's part of the country to look at some of the problems associated with this matter.

The effect of the clause would be to impose a duty on local authorities to insulate from noise all dwellings and schools within 300 miles—I should say, within 300 metres. Like other hon. Members, I find it difficult to move within the space of only 10 minutes from matters of sewerage facilities on trains and offensive smells to questions concerning motorways.

The clause does not deal with hospitals. While my hon. Friend is properly concerned with schools, we are also concerned with hospitals, as I am sure he would be. Therefore, we intend to introduce as soon as possible new regulations enabling schools and hospitals to be protected from motorway noise. I hope that that meets part of my hon. Friend's concern. We also intend to review the existing regulations as a whole as soon as sufficient experience of their working has been gained. I hope that that assurance meets the remainder of his concern. Such a review would cover questions of eligibility.

My hon. Friend said that he felt that his part of the world was being used as a sort of guinea pig for experimental purposes. There is some truth in that. Indeed, it is good sense to act in that way because it is in his area, as well as my constituency, that the difficulties we are discussing are being encountered and it is good sense to base new proposals for regulations on existing experience.

However, it is not true to go as far as my hon. Friend did and say that it is necessary for a battle to be fought on this matter. Ministers are anxious to understand people's concern on matters such as this, and we shall be sympathetic and move as fast as possible to try to meet the difficulties. However, I cannot give an undertaking that any new regulations would be retrospective—

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this matter also involves complexities relating to the Land Compensation Act, which are perhaps of more immediate relevance? I have in mind a problem arising from the construction of a stretch of road in my constituency. People living within a certain area are eligible for compensation arising from works undertaken in building the new road, but other people in the neighbourhood are barred from receiving compensation. There are all sorts of complexities in these matters, but I hope that my hon. Friend's assurances will result in some relief for people who are deafened by motorway noise.

Mr. Howell

If the situation regarding compensation is as my hon. Friend has described, I regard it as nonsense, and it is no part of my duty as a Minister to have nonsense enacted by regulations. If my hon. Friend will let me have details I should be happy to look into the matter. We are giving this question active concern and we shall seek to tidy up any anomalies which may exist.

I hope I have said enough to suggest that we not only accept and share the concern expressed but are moving to meet it. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not press his clause.

Mr. Snape

My hon. Friend has tried to be as adroit in refereeing this debate as he was in other fields before being elected to the House. Although we still have some misgivings, not on ministerial interpretations of regulations but, occasionally, on civil servants' interpretations, we accept the assurances which my hon. Friend has given and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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