HC Deb 24 June 1991 vol 193 cc757-66

'In the execution of any works, the Company shall ensure that noise levels associated with construction during the period from dawn until dusk do not exceed 35 decibels, and that outside this time noise levels do not exceed 30 decibels.'. —[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Simon Hughes

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

We are moving gradually along the track. The new clause is principally about noise. If there is one issue that concerns all my constituents—I remind the House if it will be tolerant that Southwark and Bermondsey contains the largest portion of the line, so many of my constituents are affected—it is the prospect of the noise that the construction works especially will produce. There is the secondary issue of the noise when the trains run.

This is an admission that Back-Benchers often have to make, but I accept that the new clause could have been better drafted and I apologise to the House. It deals expressly with construction, although other issues could have been covered to make it clear that my constituents are also concerned about the operational noise once the line has been built.

The new clause seeks to minimise the noise to 35 decibels between dawn and dusk. I propose a lower level at night time, when noise is heard more clearly. The argument for a lower limit at night is generally accepted. The House has had an unusual year in that we have had two debates about the problems of noise, arising on a private Member's motion and as an Adjournment debate. I say with gratitude that it is good to know that the Government take this issue seriously. There are many forms of noise nuisance and noise pollution. When I spoke briefly during the general debate on a private Member's motion, among other things I alluded to the noise caused by railways, and especially by underground railways, as a sort of trailer to today's debate.

8.30 pm

I should like to make some general points first and then site-specify them, because it is the site-specific concerns that have prompted the new clause. I shall be grateful for two responses; the first being for the promoters and the Government to say, "We understand your concerns and will seek to ensure that they are allayed." The second response should highlight the most vulnerable parts of the line in terms of where people will be most affected—

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Although my constituents welcome the fact that the Jubilee line will run through the constituency with a station at Canary Wharf, we are concerned because we have had so much disturbance, noise pollution and discomfort already. I hope that while the works are in progress the lives of the people in the neighbourhood will not deteriorate further. I refer not only to the future noise of underground trains and to the noise of the building works and to the lorries that will take away the spoil. The interests of the community must be taken into account. It has suffered enough.

Mr. Hughes

I agree with the hon. Lady. I know that part of her constituency well. No area has been uprooted, built upon, rumbled over and diverted in recent years to the same extent. To be fair to the hon. Lady's constituents, I believe that they have had an even worse experience than my constituents. Those of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have been in the same predicament. Our constituents need protection against a further six years of noise, dust, dirt, disruption and traffic diversions. I am sure that that is understood.

For the avoidance of doubt, I repeat that all of us support the idea of the line. However, during the early stages of the Bill's passage, it appeared that the House was concentrating more on the disruption to Parliament square, where nobody lives, than on that in the areas of London where many people live, such as Southwark, Bermondsey, the Isle of Dogs and Newham. We should have been most concerned about those areas. However, be that as it may, it is water under the bridge—or it might be more appropriate to say that it is water underground.

I turn now to the Government's White Paper on the environment. I appreciate that that is not the responsibility of the Minister for Public Transport, but my questions are relevant to this debate. I should be grateful to know whether two of the proposals in the White Paper will come to the aid of the people. My first point relates to page 25 of the summary document, which refers to the proposal to extend noise insulation schemes to limit exposure to noise from new rail lines. I hope that, where appropriate, such schemes will be extended to those suffering noise pollution from underground railway lines.

Secondly, I refer to the proposal to make it easier for local authorities to set up noise control zones and to encourage consistent local authority practice on noise. Progress on both proposals would be welcome and helpful.

I understand that, in general terms, the remedy—in so far as there is one—can be found in the Control of Pollution Act 1974, although I have been advised by the Library that there is no precedent. Local authorities can serve notices on how works can be carried out in the best and most practicable manner to minimise noise. I know that my local authority of Southwark, and others, are conscious of their responsibilities and that they have been working hard to ensure that the interests of their residents are looked after. As on previous occasions, I pay tribute to those in the development division of Southwark council who have been assiduous in looking after the interests of my constituents.

I trust that the British standard code of practice will be adhered to. I understand that in the worst circumstances there is also the remote opportunity of selling one's property and thus, in a sense, getting some compensation. However, most people do not want to sell their property. They want to stay in it and live there and to have their environment improved instead of being forced out because of the noise pollution.

On the site-specific details, I am talking principally about the area from London bridge to the river at the end of Surrey docks downtown, beyond the Canada Water estate, by Durands wharf, although the first sector that directly concerns my constituency is that from Waterloo to London bridge. I am grateful for the fact that the problem has been recognised. Page 14 of the environmental assessment states: Many properties close to the proposed sites already experience day time average noise levels in the 70 to 75 decibel range but special noise problems could arise close to the sites"— which are then identified as Joan street, the Cut, Newer street, Old Jamaica road, Major road, John Roll way, Canada Water and Durands Wharf, and one in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon), at Blackwall way— because of the need for 24 hour working. Special precautions may be needed at these sites to prevent night-time disturbance. On advice, I have five proposals about the best ways of meeting the concerns that have been raised. The first is that there should be more stringent noise and vibration standards at the many work sites that are located in sensitive residential areas. The environmental assessment makes quite a good read if one is interested in the detailed topography, population breakdown and history of south London. The assessment is helpful and sets out the risk areas in terms of the noise and vibration that will result from the post-construction operation.

Just to show how proper it is that we are concerned about this matter, I shall summarise what the assessment states about the first area. Approximately 120 residential buildings have been estimated to lie within the corridor in this section, including Roupell street and Ospringe house, Wootton street in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall and Scoresby street, Union street, Whites Ground estate and Druid street in Southwark. One church will also be affected—the Most Precious Blood—as will part of Guy's hospital.

The environmental assessment then makes it clear that in view of the potential for noise dsisturbance above the tunnel, it is recommended that a programme be set up to design a resilient track form to reduce noise to acceptable levels. The promoters have therefore identified the fact that action needs to be taken and have given a list of the exact locations.

I turn now to the next section and repeat that I am dealing with operational noise, not with the noise before the works have been completed. It is estimated that approximately 300 residential buildings, some of which will house many people, lie within that corridor, including those in Druid street, Sweeney crescent, the Arnold estate, Old Jamaica road, Marine street, Keetons road, Perryn road, Drummond road, the Kirby estate, Neptune street and Renforth street. St. James's church will also be affected. It has recently been beautifully restored with the help of English Heritage and the London Docklands development corporation. The proposal will also involve St. James's school in Bermondsey, of which I have just become a governor, and St. Olave's hospital, which is the subject of a redevelopment proposal. It suffered an arson attack last night, although happily nobody was injured and the fire was put out by the local fire brigade. Again, it is proposed that a programme should be set up to design a resilient track form to reduce noise to acceptable levels.

Many people are affected. The Minister for Public Transport has been assiduous in acquainting himself with the details of the area and he knows that we are talking about blocks of council flats, pubs, schools and play areas. The report says: Background daytime noise levels at Old Jamaica Road are currently about 51 dB(A). During construction, noise levels at Giles House will be typically 62–71 dB(A), possibly reaching 77 d(B)A. This is expected to cause annoyance in comparison with existing conditions and mitigation measures to reduce construction noise will be required to prevent both daytime and night-time disturbance. Noise levels at St. James's School will also result in disturbance unless such measures are taken. The report makes similar comments about Canada Water and the Canada estate, Ben Smith way—it says that night-time working should be avoided, if possible—and Southwark park, here mentioning Rotherhithe Free Church.

I apologise to the House for setting out those areas, but I want to ensure that the places where people will be affected are noted. At the Surrey Docks end of the line, 55 buildings within the corridor—Holyoak court, Rotherhithe street, Timbrell road and Downtown road —will be affected. The report says that in Durands wharf current daytime noise levels in the area are relatively low … construction noise levels of 64–72 dB(A), possibly reaching 79 dB(A) …would cause annoyance at the nearest dwellings. Special measures may therefore be required to reduce noise, particularly at night and during piling. The prospective consequences are substantial and therefore the most stringent noise and vibration standards are required at the work site. It appears—I may be wrong and I am simply being inquisitive—that undertakings were given by the promoters in November last year that the code of construction would be based on local circumstances after background noise surveys, which would determine the noise abatement activity. I understand that there will now be uniform standards rather than better and tighter standards in the areas that I have identified as having problems. If that is so, it is not good enough. Where people live and work, and where there are schools and churches, close to the site standards must be tougher. All those areas should be protected during the work, and resilient track should be laid.

Working hours must respect local sensitivities. No work should be done except between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm on weekdays. I heard the reply of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) when he said that five and a half days a week would be worked. In some ways, Saturday mornings are acceptable, because it is better to have the work concentrated for a shorter time. However, we do not want a repetition of the problems caused when construction work on Surrey quays was carried out around the clock and those living nearby were permanently aggravated.

The criteria for London Underground's providing double glazing to protect residents from noise must not be set so high that they never qualify. The Minister for Public Transport replied to a debate on the Channel tunnel recently when the Planning and Compensation Bill was being debated and the triggering of the protection of the law in terms of compensation was discussed. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) and other colleagues have had a persistent interest in that subject. We must ensure that we are not creating exceptional opportunities for double glazing, of which no one can avail themselves. If people are to be blighted by noise that could be mitigated or removed by double glazing, they must be entitled to it. I wish to know on behalf of my constituents on the Canada estate that they will be protected. They have been disrupted enough already.

8.45 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman said that his new clause was defective because it did not deal with both the operation and the construction of the line. His comments on double glazing appear to apply to the effects on the neighbourhood of the line once it is built. I understand that, but will the hon. Gentleman also explain the decibel levels in the new clause, because they seem quite low? I do not see how the same decibels can apply to construction as to operation.

Mr. Hughes

I was about to deal with decibel levels, so the hon. Gentleman's intervention was timely. I apologise to the House, but the new clause is a probing rather than a concrete one. A better defined new clause could have dealt separately with construction and operation noise. Those living in local blocks, will suffer a higher level of noise during construction than during operation. The real debate among accoustic engineers is between the 40 decibel lobby and the 35 decibel lobby. It is accepted—not only in this country but elsewhere—that the lowest decibel level acceptable is 35.

I am no expert, but if environmental protection officers or experts aware of the debate in London Underground were here, I guess they would tell us that the present ambient noise level in the Chamber is now about 50 or 55 decibels. Decibel noises are quite high and low decibel levels require extremely quiet periods. The 35 to 40 decibel apply to operation noise once the line is built and the difference is between noticeable noise—noises that one hears at night when the world is relatively quiet—and the noise that one does not hear.

We should have the best standards that are achievable as we have the technology to achieve them. We must reduce noise levels to 35 decibels when the track will be under people's homes, churches and other buildings. It is accepted that there will be 35 decibel limits under sensitive buildings. I accept that resilient track is more expensive, but it will benefit not only buildings like Henry Wood hall in Trinity Church square in my constituency, where there is a rehearsal and recording studio, or the laboratories in Guy's hospital, which have sensitive equipment, but equally residential accommodation. I do not argue that noise should be reduced below a level at which people do not notice it anyway, but only where that noise constitutes a problem. Although 35 decibels is quiet, it is noticeable, so that should be the operational limit.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) is right to say that the limit for construction is higher and the environmental assessment made that clear. In that case, the site-specific protection measures should include the ability to have double glazing as early as possible because it will be more useful to protect against the noise of construction than of operation. Double glazing will be needed in places such as the Isle of Dogs, the Royal docks or Surrey docks to stop not only the dust but the noise of the piling, the cranes and the lorries taking away the loads. Therefore, I hope that double glazing will be installed this winter or next spring rather than in six years' time.

There was evidence in Committee that what is called "floating slab track" would substantially reduce the noise. That track is far more noise-resilient, and could be used in sensitive locations. I hope that, as with my plea for double glazing, the definition of where such track will be used is not so limited as to be hardly ever used and that it can be used more frequently.

In terms of noise, it is better environmentally to have top-down construction than bottom-up construction. The original idea was to use the cut-and-cover technique, by which the hole is dug and then covered over. I understand that the preferred method of construction—and it is logical—is to build the top and then to work underneath so that the noise does not then rise up through an empty space. I hope that there will be top-down construction for all the works at Canada Water station. The greatest concern expressed to me and, no doubt, to hon. Members who were members of the Committee, was by the residents of the Canada estate. They have had a hard time already. They are right on the edge of the proposal for large works. Above all, they hope that construction can be done in a way that minimises the noise disturbance to them.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out various concerns. Noise will be the principal concern of people living along the route in Southwark and Bermondsey. They are concerned about dust and other matters as well, but if we could ensure that they are not affected by noise or if we keep the noise to a minimum, the line will run into far less trouble as it is being built. If they are not given that protection, sadly, I anticipate that those responsible for building the line will face a hard time from equally noisy constituents and residents—and deservedly noisy ones, because their environment must be looked after once the line is built.

Mr. Cox

It is a pleasure to speak in support of the new clause. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) cited the levels of noise as 35 decibels from dawn to dusk and as 30 decibels outside those hours. In reply to questions by myself and other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) properly told us that the project would involve round-the-clock working —24 hours a day—for five and a half days a week. That means construction work in all forms—not only the work on site, but the movements involved in supplying materials and in the removal of soil and other material from the site.

At present, a development is taking place on the south side of Vauxhall bridge. I travel along that road every day as I come to the House. I repeatedly see huge lorries either entering or leaving the site, either delivering or having delivered materials. That causes the most enormous traffic hold-ups.

I make that point because the Minister said that he hoped that as much as possible of the site working movements, whether including spoil from the site or the supply of materials, would be by barge. I welcome that. However, in the case of the development on the south side of Vauxhall bridge, one sees few barge movements. I agree that that is a smaller development than the one proposed in the Bill, but hon. Members, and especially those whom we try to represent, would have greater confidence if the Minister or the hon. Member for Ilford, South, the sponsor of the Bill, were able to say that the provisions of the new clause would be incorporated into any contracts awarded.

We know that, with all the good will in the world, the contracts between London Transport and the building companies—from what we have heard this evening, some movement for the development could be done by barge along the River Thames—will lead to a great volume of lorries. We have not been told about the estimated number of lorries travelling to and from the site in the course of the round-the-clock working. One can assume only that the number of lorries would be substantial and would bring increasing noise. We all know that the lorries would be the largest that are allowed to use our roads and that there would not be one or two, but 100 or more a day. They would travel through residential areas, adding to the noise and pollution, and causing great environmental damage.

I am sure that all of us warmly welcome the Minister's comments on barges, but many of us would like the assurance that, for those awarded the contracts, there should he written into the contract a clear obligation that they should have to—not just be expected to—keep to the suggested noise levels in the course of the contract. If that happened, the problem would be eased.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey has outlined the problems that would exist in the form of continual noise for many of the residents who live in the area. As Members of Parliament for London, we have the right to use this opportunity to bring home forcefully to the Minister and to the sponsor the issues that must be considered and agreed on now. Later on, it will be far too late. That is why action should be taken now.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that his suggestion could be taken one step further? My hon. Friend and the promoters have spoken about the removal of spoil by barge, which is an historic method in the construction of London tubes. In the construction of Canary wharf, a wharf was set aside, downstream from which suppliers collected materials and took them to the site by barge. The construction of an underground railway calls for large quantities of cement and sections of tunnel, and even in the cause of economy the promoters might care to consider that sort of arrangement.

Mr. Cox

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valuable point. I hope that the Minister and the promoters will act upon it.

The work will last for four and a half years. If we do not seek to include in the contract the arrangements that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have suggested, people living in the vicinity of the work will suffer anguish for a long time. Our duty is to try to see that such suffering is avoided.

9 pm

Mr. Thorne

All hon. Members share the concern about noise expressed by the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox). Noise is one of the problems that people have to face nowadays, but frequently we are asked to put up with far too much of it. It is right that we should do all that we can to mitigate the problem.

If the amendment is accepted, we shall have no Jubilee line at all, because the proposal that the work should generate fewer than 35 decibels during the day and fewer than 30 at night would mean that no work at all could be carried out. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey seems to have been badly advised on his figures. He may be confusing the noise levels in his amendment with the levels that are acceptable on the surface from underground working.

The hon. Gentleman said that his amendment was intended to be probing and that it provided an opportunity to discuss the matter of noise. The noise level experienced in a residential street in inner London is about 50 decibels, while in Parliament square the level reaches 70 decibels. Those are logarithmic scales, from which it will be realised that 70 decibels is a much higher noise level than double 35 decibels. A noise level of 35 decibels is what someone standing in the middle of Hyde park late at night would expect to hear from traffic some distance away.

The amendment must be seen purely and simply as a probing amendment and not one that the hon. Gentleman would wish to press to a vote, because, if accepted, it would not allow the railway to be constructed, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman wants that. I think that he is quite enthusiastic about the railway. The normal expectation is a limit of 75 decibels during the day, 65 in the evening and 55 at night.

The hon. Member for Tooting spoke about the duration of the work. This is a major construction, and if work were limited to 12 hours a day from 8 am to 8 pm over five and a half days a week, the project would take much longer than four and a half years to complete and, of course, that would have its disadvantages. A vast amount of the work will take place underground. The underground work in extending the docklands light railway from Tower gateway to Bank has not been causing annoyance and disturbance to people on the surface, and that work has been continuing day and night.

The construction near the surface of, for example, Canada Water station would be carried out over six days a week from 7 am to 7 pm. Work would not be carried out for 24 hours a day, although such a programme would be used for the tunnels. Clearly, that is a different operation and would take much longer. Double glazing has been mentioned.

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the hours of work and the noise bans within those hours. Will he define what he means by daytime, evening and night-time? He has said that there would be different noise levels, but he has not said at what point one would move from one level to the next.

Mr. Thorne

The daytime workings at Canada Water will be between 7 am and 7 pm. I am not absolutely certain, but I would assume that night-time surface working would be in the hours outside those hours. I would have to take further advice on what is meant by evening working, and I will let the hon. Lady know the answer.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I think that I am right in saying that the proposal that the Canada Water works be carried out on a six-day rather than a five-and-a-half-day week has not been accepted or agreed, local residents, their representatives or the local authority. I doubt whether they would find acceptable the proposal that the work immediately adjacent to the Canada estate be done on that timetable. I hope that that will be reconsidered.

Mr. Thorne

To the best of my knowledge, these are the hours that were given in Committee, but I am sure that this will be further explored in another place when it goes through the Committee there. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific points to make, I am sure that they will be taken account of there.

There is a universal policy for double glazing, based on decibel requirement, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said. He was concerned that a high decibel count had to be achieved, but each site will be taken on its merits, and there will be some grounds for negotiations. The further consideration of the Bill in the other place will be the right time to raise that point, particularly where it concerns residential properties. Further information can be obtained on that matter at that time.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman cannot deal with my next point now, perhaps he will deal with it in another way. As I understood it, the original intention was that the site-specific areas—the areas with the greatest risk of noise nuisance—would have higher standards imposed during construction, but as I understand it now, a general standard will be imposed along the route. Has there been a resiling from the original position? If so, will that too be considered, so that we can get back to the original proposal that the more work, the better the protection?

Mr. Thorne

I do not believe that there has been any resiling, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on that point so that, before the Bill reaches the other place, he will be fully aware of the situation.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the extra cost involved in reducing the decibel level of noise from underground from 35 to 30 decibels. Such a reduction is already required in sensitive areas. We have to be reasonable and acknowledge that it is twice as expensive to construct track that reduces the decibel level to 30 from 35. Therefore, it is not appropriate to do this in all places. Noise is not considered to be a difficult problem generally and in many places, the depth of the tunnels will solve the problem anyway.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry to intervene again, but I should like the hon. Gentleman to deal with all these points. I asked about cut-and-cover as opposed to top-down construction of stations. If the hon. Gentleman can answer now, I shall be grateful, but if not, I should like to know that the construction of stations such as Bermondsey or Canada Water will be by top-down rather than cut-and-cover, as that is environmentally accepted to be the far quieter option.

Mr. Thorne

I accept that it is quieter. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer, but I will write to him.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) asked about the number of vehicles that are likely to go around. There will be 50 a day at the Parliament street site, which is not as many as the hon. Gentleman feared. As that is the largest and most difficult of the sites, it seems that any problems should be scaled down considerably.

I trust that the new clause can be regarded as a probing motion and that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will withdraw it.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The new clause has suffered from being compacted, and I take full responsibility for that. Construction should have been separate from noise levels in the course of operation. The decibel levels in the new clause are operational options and do not relate to construction. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is right: even in a perfect world, it would not be possible to relate the decibels that are set out in the clause to construction. None the less, the issue is germane, and the debate has been useful. I am sure that its importance will have been registered and that those in another place will take up the matter.

Originally, we were told that there would be disruption on site for a year. We are told now that there will be disruption for four years. That is four years at Ben Smith way, four years at Downtown road and four years at Culling road. Given the number of decibels, that is a long time. The issue needs to be considered, and in the hope that it will be, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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