HL Deb 26 July 1973 vol 344 cc1989-98

1.48 p.m.

LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON rose to move, That the Draft Noise Insulation Regulations 1973, laid before the House on July 16 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, during their comprehensive review of the compensation code, the Government concluded that

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 29; Not-Contents, 76.

Airedale, L. Gardiner, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Amulree, L. [Teller.] Glasgow, E. Seear, B.
Avebury, L. Hale, L. Simon, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. [Teller.] Henley, L. Stamp, L.
Killearn, L. Stocks, B.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lauderdale, E. Thurso, V.
Boothby, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Byers, L. Longford, E. Willis, L.
Faringdon, L. Napier and Ettrick, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Foot, L. Rusholme, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Monck, V.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Erskine of Rerrick, L. Northchurch, B.
Albemarle, E. Ferrers, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gainford, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Allerton, L. Gaitskell, B. Phillips, B.
Amory, V. Geddes of Epsom, L. Polwarth, L.
Arwyn, L. Goschen, V. Porritt, L.
Balerno, L. Gowrie, E. Reigate, L.
Balfour, E. Grenfell, L. Royle, L.
Berkeley, B. Grimston of Westbury, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Bessborough, E. Hailes, L. St. Just, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Sandford, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Sempill, Ly.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hanworth, V. Shepherd, L.
Carnock, L. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cottesloe, L. Hoy, L.
Craigavon, V. Hylton-Foster, B. Strathspey, L.
Crook, L. Janner, L. Terrington, L.
Davidson, V. Limerick, E. Teviot, L.
de Clifford, L. Long, V. Thomas, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Loudoun, C. Tweedsmuir, L.
Derwent, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, B.
Diamond, L. McLeavy, L. Vernon, L.
Effingham, E. Mancroft, L. Vivian, L.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Merrivale, L. Windlesham, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Ellenborough, L. Milverton, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

sound insulation should be available for works. The Land Compensation Act therefore contains a section, Section 20, which enables the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing a duty or conferring a power on authorities to sound insulate buildings against noise caused by the construction or use of certain public works.

Whereas powers already exist enabling properties to be insulated against aircraft noise, and schemes are in operation around Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester airports, nothing could be done about road traffic noise. The Government's resolve to do something was reinforced by the report of the Urban Motorways Committee, New Roads in Towns, which concluded that it may not in all cases prove possible to achieve acceptable noise levels by measures associated with the design of the road. For these cases a sound insulation scheme should be introduced. The Government recognised that this first set of regulations under Section 20 of the Land Compensation Act would be of considerable importance, and it was right that they should be laid in draft and not be made unless the draft had been approved by a Resolution of each House; and it is this approval which I am seeking from your Lordships to-day. The draft has already been approved in another place.

The Regulations provide for the insulation of dwellings and other residential accommodation, such as old people's homes, against noise caused, or expected to be caused, by traffic using new highways and certain altered highways. The Regulations impose a duty on highway authorities to carry out sound insulation, or to make a grant in respect of the cost of insulating these buildings against noise from new roads, and roads to which a carriageway has been added, opened after October 16, 1972. That is Regulation 3. They confer a power to do so in the case of roads opened or altered after October 16, 1969 (Regulation 4), and in so far as the Department is a highway authority we shall operate this power as though it were mandatory on us. The level of noise at or above which Regulations 3 and 4 come into play is 68 dB(A) on the L10 scale; that is, where 68 dB(A) is exceeded for 10 per cent. or more of the hours from 0600 to 1800 on a normal weekday. This is a more generous level than that previously proposed by, for example, the Noise Advisory Council and is about the lowest we can go, given the present state of knowledge on the prediction of noise. Perhaps I might add that Part 1 of Schedule 1 defines both dB(A) and L10.

The Regulations also prescribe the procedure governing the making and acceptance of offers to carry out insulation work. The highway authority is required under Regulation 6 to produce a map or list showing eligible properties within six months of the date when the road is first opened, and under Regulation 8 to make an offer of sound insulation to residents at the same time. Twelve months is allowed for the production of this map and the making of the offer where the road has been opened before September 1, 1973. The map or list could of course be produced before construction commences, and residents could then have the benefit of insulation against construction noise. There may nevertheless be some properties which are severely affected by construction noise, but which are not likely to be so badly affected once the road comes into use. Regulation 5 thus provides a power to sound insulate properties likely to be seriously affected for a substantial period of time by construction works, but which will not be eligible under Regulations 3 or 4 once the road is opened. This power is an alternative to temporary re-accommodation or acquisition by agreement under Part II of the Land Compensation Act.

The offer of insulation against construction noise has to be accepted within two months since a protracted period would not be appropriate, but otherwise the offer can be accepted up to twelve months after the date when the road was opened or alteration completed. A resident who is not offered sound insulation may appeal to the highway authority under Regulation 13 within 12 months of the opening of a road to which the Regulations apply. The highway authority is then required to review its calculations of the noise level and to provide a reasoned explanation if it does not accept the appeal.

The Regulations provide two methods of calculating noise levels—prediction or measurement. Both take account of future traffic growth over a 15-year period, and both enable the calculated figure to be rounded up to the nearest decibel. This is provided for in Schedule 1. Schedule 2 provides a specification which the sound insulation treatment is required to meet. The treatment consists of double glazing, the supply of a ventilator unit and permanent vent, both fitted with sound-absorbing material, and, in rooms which might become over-heated due to heat from the sun, the provision of venetian blinds. These specifications have been drawn up with the help of the Department's Building Research Establishment and have been discussed with interested bodies, such as the Gas Council. The installation has been tested in a flat kindly lent by Birmingham Corporation alongside the M.6 motorway, where it has proved very satisfactory and has reduced noise by 35 dB(A)—about 80 per cent.

My Lords, I should like, finally, to reaffirm the line which the Government have always taken on these Regulations; that is, that we are breaking new ground and, as with all such innovations, only time will show whether changes are necessary. We shall keep the level of entitlement, the noise prediction techniques and the technical specifications under review. But I believe that these Regulations will enable us to deal with the cases which need priority attention. The Regulations are part of a comprehensive approach aimed at minimising nuisance and safeguarding the interests of individuals within the community. Your Lordships gave a warm welcome to the principles behind our Land Compensation Act; I hope you will similarly welcome these Regulations. Accordingly, my Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Noise Insulation Regulations 1973, laid before the House on July 16, be approved.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

1.56 p.m.


My Lords, may I at the outset thank the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for the care with which he has explained these Regulations? The form in which they are presented is a rather bulky one, and the Regulations themselves seem to me to be somewhat complex and certainly call for very careful study. They follow the publication of the Urban Motorways Committee's Report, New Roads in Towns, and the White Paper, Development and Compensation: Putting People First. The powers to make Regulations for sound insulation of buildings affected by public works were, as he stated, established by the Land Compensation Act 1973, which was so recently before this House. They are of such consequence that it would be very wrong indeed that they should go by "on the nod", and there are a number of points which I wish to raise. I shall concentrate on a few of major importance where it seems desirable that further, and indeed urgent, consideration might well be given. These are matters where the public interest is adversely affected, and where concern exists as to the adequacy of the proposed Regulations.

My first point is on noise levels. As the noble Lord said, the Regulations specify 68 decibels measured externally, which are not to be exceeded for more than 10 per cent, of an 18-hour period. This is well in excess of the Greater London Council's interim level of 65 decibels over a 12-hour period which, as I understand it, is equivalent to 63 decibels over an 18-hour period.


My Lords, if I may correct the noble Lord on one point, I said between 0600 and 1800 hours—a 12-hour period.


My Lords, I noticed that the noble Lord said that and I checked page 3 of the Regulations. If the noble Lord will look at the middle of that page, he will see that it states: 'specified level' means a noise level of L10 (18 Hour) of 68 dB(A). If I am wrong, then my argument is still good, because the G.L.C.'s interim level is 65 decibels over a 12-hour period. But I doubt whether I am wrong. I hope the noble Lord will take steps to ensure what is the exact position. Be that as it may, as I say, the level laid down in these Regulations is substantially in excess of what the Wilson Committee recommended; and, as the Layfield Panel Report points out (and, if the noble Lord has the Report with him, it is in Volume I, page 384; I checked it this morning before I came to the House), even the Wilson levels were unacceptable to many objectors at the Greater London Development Plan Inquiry. So I find it a little difficult to accept what the noble Lord claimed, that the level of decibels is generously low. I put this point to the Minister: that the noise levels specified in these Regulations are too high, and ought to be reduced.

Secondly, touching on the range of buildings to which the Regulations apply, as I understand it the original expectation was that hospitals and educational establishments would be covered in separate Regulations. I would ask the Minister: is this still the intention? I ask because there is some genuine doubt, not merely on my part but, I think I can claim, in the mind of the largest local authority in the country. I hope that the intention is still there; and, indeed, further, that other highly sensitive buildings, such as libraries, places of worship, concert and assembly halls, will also be included if further Regulations are to be issued. It is a little odd to reflect on the fact that nurses' hostels are eligible under the present proposals while, as I understand the position, hospital wards are not. I would ask for an assurance that where it is agreed that buildings such as I have mentioned can be given a top priority rating, they will be covered in future Regulations.

My Lords, I should like to touch on the matter of specifications, which I think is dealt with in Regulation 9 and Schedule 2. I am advised that these are too rigid, and are unlikely to meet the varied needs of many different types of dwelling to be found in London and other large towns. I am informed that the Greater London Council would welcome some discretionary power to vary the specification where it is professionally considered desirable having regard to the nature and quality of individual buildings. I should like to ask the Minister whether he can say that it is intended that some flexibility will be allowed. Will there be permitted such variations of the standard specifications in cases where those specifications are impracticable? The Wilson Report had a great deal to say on traffic noise. I do not want to elaborate on that Report and what it had to say, but it prompts me to inquire whether it is in mind to extend the Regulations, or to make further Regulations, to cover traffic management schemes. If so, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, can indicate what kind of timetable is being considered. There is no indication that the Government intend to make Regulations covering adverse acoustic effects on such major public developments as power stations, and I wonder whether the noble Lord can say anything about that.

I hope the noble Lord is in a position to be forthcoming on these matters, since I feel sure that the Department of the Environment will be well aware of the concern which exists on them. I look forward with interest to his reply, and trust he will be able to give assurances that will adequately meet the position. Of course, I have no intention of pursuing this matter to a vote. One of the difficulties is that this kind of procedure, where we have Regulations, makes it impossible to amend anything and forces one to pursue the line that I have taken this afternoon. I do not know how far we shall go with more and more of these Draft Statutory Instruments, with such Orders as this one. It is very difficult to check them, since we are so limited in what we can do by way of getting them improved. I do not suppose for one moment that the noble Lord will indicate that the Orders will be withdrawn to give consideration to the points I have raised. I would not expect him to do that, but I hope he will be able to give me assurances that will be satisfying; and I think he will not be surprised if I say that among local authorities the Greater London Council, in particular, will be extremely interested in what he has to say.

2.8 p.m.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, may I point out that if these Regulations (which are due to come into effect this September) are amended or voted against in this House, their benefits to the people of this country, benefits which I think we are agreed are considerable, would be lost. In my speech I indicated that we were aware of the fact that this is the first venture into this field, and we accept that it may need alteration in the light of experience. I think that Lord Garnsworthy, who has put a lot of painstaking work into it, has put his finger on some of the points concerned. I must apologise to the noble Lord: he is totally right. It is an 18-hour period. I should have said "from 06.00 hours to 24.00 hours" and not "to 18.00 hours". My speaking notes contained the latter figure; but of course, that is no excuse. I thank the noble Lord for drawing my attention to this point.

I know there are arguments whether we should have come down to 65dB(A). Some of these habitations (such as the one we had at Birmingham where the Corporation helped very much) were subjected to 83 and 84dB(A) outside. This was reduced by 35dB(A) inside. This represents an 80 per cent. reduction. We may find this is not enough. I pointed out that 68dB(A) is less than the noise level the Wilson Committee recommended. They recommended 70dB(A) as being a practical proposition. We have gone to 68dB(A). There will always be people who wish to carry it further one way or the other. We have taken a mean which we think should be tried out. In any case, it will be a great improvement on the position in the past.

Regarding hospitals and schools, I am informed that discussions are in progress with the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security but the problems are considerable. One of the major problems in hospitals is to determine a desirable internal noise level. This may differ considerably between an operating theatre and a ward. We are going to bring forward the necessary regulations when our discussions with the two Departments are complete.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the other class of building to which I referred will be considered at the same time?


Is the noble Lord referring to concert halls and assembly halls?


My Lords, to places where it can be agreed that the matter ought to be regarded as having a top priority.


My Lords, I have no authority at this moment to say that this is in the pipeline, but I can say to the noble Lord that I will personally see that the other Ministers in my Department know his views. I will find out their views and let him know. I think his views will be listened to as they know he speaks for his Party on this matter.

The noble Lord asked about Regulation 9. If the Greater London Council find that Regulation 9 is unsatisfactory, the Department will be prepared to consider any representations made. At the moment the case must be proved one way or the other; and I think we have it right. Power stations normally are not in the remit of this Order. We were not thinking of power stations but of roads and road construction. Power stations are normally sited away from major units of human habitation. I cannot give any assurance on that at this moment.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he said. I have an idea that I asked one or two questions he has not answered. I will not press them this afternoon. We are already delayed beyond the point that anyone expected. If he will drop me a line about them I shall be grateful.


My Lords, I will certainly guarantee to do that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.