HL Deb 04 March 1975 vol 357 cc1227-35

4.38 p.m.

Lord HUGHES rose to move, That the Draft Noise Insulation (Scotland) Regulations 1975, laid before the House on 21st January, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, Section 18 of the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing a duty or conferring a power on authorities to insulate buildings against noise caused by the construction or the use of certain public works. The problems associated with noise from new roads are perhaps more widespread than any other form of nuisance. Serious loss of amenity can very frequently be avoided by judicious planning and design of roads, but this is not always-able, especially in densely populated urban areas. The Government are therefore providing a scheme of sound insulation to cover those cases where, without insulation, peoples' homes would suffer unduly from noise from roads.

The Draft Regulations before the House today provide for the insulation of dwellings and other residential accommodation against noise caused by new and certain altered roads where this noise exceeds a specified level. The draft has already been approved in another place. Comparable Regulations for England and Wales were made in September 1973. Every attempt has been made to ensure that right to noise insulation from new roadworks will be the same throughout Great Britain. The Scottish and English regulations provide for the same qualifying noise level, the same specifications of work to be done and the same procedure for claiming. However, the method and timing of calculation of noise levels which is proposed for the Scottish scheme is different from that presently operating in England. The English method is based on a calculation at a single point in time, from which the prevailing noise levels for up to 15 years ahead are predicted. This approach is not considered appropriate to Scottish conditions, since traffic flows in Scotland are generally much lower than in England and therefore any attempt at long-term prediction of traffic volumes would be open to a much greater margin of error in Scotland than in England. We have opted for a calculation of noise levels based on measurement of existing traffic densities. Measurements will be taken again periodically, and new calculations made in the light of them.

My Lords, the Regulations impose a duty on highway authorities to carry out sound insulation, or to make grants in respect of the cost of insulating those buildings which are subjected to excessive noise from new roads, and roads to which a carriageway has been added, opened to public traffic after 16th October 1972 (Regulation 3). They confer a power to do so in the case of roads opened or altered after 16th October 1969 (Regulation 4). This is the same period of retrospection applied by the English Regulations, and discharges an undertaking on the part of Government given in the White Paper (Cmnd. 5124) which preceded the 1973 Compensation Act.

Regulations 3 and 4 will operate when the calculated noise level is at or above 68 decibels, "A" weighting, on the L–10 (18 hour) scale. For noble Lords who do not understand these technicalities, this means, approximately, that the average of the levels of noise for one-tenth of the time during each hour between 6 a.m. and midnight must exceed 68 decibels. This is lower than the threshold of 70 decibels recommended by the Noise Advisory Council and supported by the Urban Motorways Committee. The Regulations also allow an authority to insulate dwellings subjected to noise below this qualifying level, if they are part of a building of which some other part is exposed to this level of noise. This provision should allow some flexibility on the part of highway authorities.

Assessment of noise levels in Scotland will normally be based on traffic counts made within a year of the opening of a new road or additional carriageway. Calculations of noise levels will then be made on the basis of these counts, and, under Regulation 6, a map or list of all houses which quality for insulation will be prepared and made available for inspection. Offers of insulation, or grants in lieu thereof, will be made within three months thereafter. Prevailing noise levels will be reassessed five, 10 and 15 years after a road is opened. A new map or list will then be prepared and offers of insulation made for those houses which have subsequently become subject to excessive noise. Thus, if there is a substantial increase in noise from a road during the period up to 15 years after it has been opened, insulation can be provided to alleviate its effects.


My Lords, the Wilson Report suggested that the bearable noise level was 35 decibels. Am I to understand that if the noise is 68 decibels for one-tenth of an hour it is acceptable, but if it is more than one-tenth of an hour in continuity of noise it has to drop down to 35 decibels if the Wilson level is accepted?


My Lords, I am more knowledgeable when I am dealing with matters of housing finance than with this subject. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to continue with the excellent brief that has been presented to me, and he may find that an answer will emerge before I finish.

A memorandum describing in detail the method and prescribing the timing of assessment of noise levels will be published separately. Copies of this memorandum have been made available for inspection in the Library. The enabling Act specifically empowers the Secretary of State to specify these elements of the scheme in a document not incorporated in the Regulations. The device has been adopted, because a highly technical document of this nature may require frequent amendment in the light of future experience and technical innovation. I am sure your Lordships will agree that Parliament need not be approached every time a technical alteration to the assessment method is found to be necessary. Steps will be taken to ensure that the memorandum is always available wherever the Regulations are on sale and that Its existence is well publicised. By arrangement with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, addition is to be made to the Explanatory Note, before publication, pointing out the existence of the memorandum.

There may be some houses which are severely affected by construction noise during the building of a road, but which are not likely to be subjected to excessive noise once a road comes into use. A further power has been provided in Regulation 5 to allow authorities to make offers in such cases. The Schedule describes in detail the specifications for the work to be carried out. This package has been shown to be capable of reducing internal noise levels by about 35 decibels from the prevailing external levels. This represents a reduction of about 80 per cent. in noise as experienced. The specifications will apply to all insulation work under these Regulations whether carried out by the highway authority or by a person in receipt of a grant.

There should be no need for people to make claims for sound insulation, under normal circumstances, since authorities will take all the necessary steps to identify those buildings which are eligible, and offers of insulation will be made to the owners or occupiers who qualify under the scheme. The procedures to be followed in making and accepting offers of grant or work, and the time limits for the making and accepting of offers are set out in Regulation 8. However, a resident who is not offered insulation and claims to be entitled to such an offer, may appeal to the highway authority under Regulation 13, and that authority will then be required to review its calculations and to give a full explanation if the appeal is rejected.

I have been handed a note which I am having difficulty in deciphering. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will be able to say exactly how we have followed what was done by the previous Government. If he does that at sufficient length to enable a legible answer to appear, I may be able to give it at the end of the debate. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Noise Insulation (Scotland) Regulations 1975, laid before the House on 21st January, be approved. —(Lord Hughes.)

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak at length but we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his explanation of these Regulations and we sympathise with him about the technical nature of some of it. He will not be surprised to hear that my noble friends and I are, in general, in favour of what is proposed, since it arises from our 1973 Act and the policy of assisting those whose homes are near to road traffic. I have two queries, and let me say straight away that we will understand if in the course of this short debate it is not possible for the Minister to reply to them now, or perhaps to decipher any note which he may receive.

My first query is about the conditions of grant in Regulation 10. From paragraph (c), it appears to be stipulated that the work must be completed within 12 months and there does not appear to be any discretion about this. What will happen if, for some reason beyond the fault of the person concerned, it is not possible to complete the work in that time? We found from experience of the Housing Improvement Scheme during the last four years that there was a time of acute shortage of labour and building materials, when it was difficult for people whose applications had been approved to get the work completed before the final date; and, consequently, as your Lordships will know, that date was considerably postponed. However, in this case it appears that they simply have 12 months in which to get the work finished. At present, the construction industry is unfortunately suffering a recession, but these periods come in cycles and it was only two or three years ago that the industry was fully extended, so there could come a time in the future when, with the best will in the world, it would be impossible to get approved work finished in the stipulated time.

My second query, which is a small but interesting one, arises from paragraph 4 of the Schedule. Where double windows are being created, it appears that a Venetian blind is insisted on, and I presume that the purpose of this is to prevent direct heat from the sun where sunlight falls directly on a double window which it is not possible to open. It could be that it is a matter of light as well, but I presume that it is heat because the occupier would no doubt be expected to provide internal curtains against light—for example, headlamps at night, as well as daylight. But if the windows are not in the direct line of the sun, and if the owner does not wish to have this additional work done, is it still obligatory? With all the complicated paraphernalia described in paragraph 4 of the Schedule, it looks as though the job of installing a Venetian blind will be more complicated and expensive than the double glazing job which is the main object. Therefore it seemed to me odd that there was no discretionary element there, because the final sentence of paragraph 4 of the Schedule gives a certain amount of latitude, but not to dispense altogether—as I interpret it—with a Venetian blind which, in the circumstances I have described, would not be necessary and might be an extra which the owner would not wish.


My Lords, a further point which my noble friend has not asked about, and about which I am curious, concerns Regulation 10. Supposing the occupants of a house were an old couple who were deaf and so did not mind about noise. They may not want the trouble of having the work done. Would not the noble Lord the Minister agree that it might be a wise addition to the Order to add "and owner", since the occupant may be a person who willingly refuses to have the work done because it is not in his or her own personal interest, whereas to any normal person in good health it would be very useful?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, the position is that the 35 decibels is the figure for inside a house and 68 decibels, to which I have referred, is for outside. With regard to the Venetian bind, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is correct in his assumption that the purpose here was to reduce the possibility of overheating in the case of a window which could not be opened to provide ventilation, which would be the position with double glazing. As the noble Lord suspected, I am not in a position to give an answer on this, but I certainly see the point. There is hardly any need to install a Venetian blind in a North-facing window, which will never get any sun anyway. I do not visualise the circumstances in which this could apply, but I should certainly like to look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.

With reference to the matter of flexibility and the 12 months period, I suspect that the answer is that there is not any flexibility because, as one knows, if there is not a period fixed at some time, then it becomes regarded as a door which is permanently open. If one took away the 12 month period, we would have to say "provided it did not exceed it by so' much", and we could be in exactly the same position as in the difficult situation which arose regarding improvement grants, because of a strike. Apart from everything else, there was a shortage of materials and people could not get on with the work because they had to wait a long time for plasterboard. The delay in delivery of plasterboard rose to eight or nine months, compared with a normal delivery period of two or three weeks. We cannot make provision for that sort of situation in an Order of this kind.

I think the probability is that as people will be wanting work done, because they are being faced with an intolerable situation there will be a very definite urge on them to get it done as quickly as possible. I do not think this is the sort of work which involves structural alterations, and so should not take long. Many of us who now have double glazing know that it is comparatively simple to install, and it is certainly not time consuming. I am not certain that I can do anything other than inquire about the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. If there was a change of house and the new people wanted to do something which had not been done by their predecessors, we would suddenly find that—


A change of occupier.


If there was something which had not been done by the previous occupier, we might find that there had been a sudden unaccountable increase in deafness among the departing tenants. I am not certain whether this point could be, or is, covered by the noble Lord's other point about applying it to the owner. I recollect that there was a reference in my remarks to the owner-occupier. I should like to look at this and write to the noble Lord to explain the position.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister, with reference to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, whether, if he had a bedroom facing North and there was a sudden great increase of traffic at night, he would not be very glad of double glazing so that he would not be kept awake at night by headlights, especially if there was a curve in the road at that point?


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord's point was in connection with double glazing; it was in connection with Venetian blinds. In order to keep out light it is not necessary to have a Venetian blind fitted on windows with double glazing. It is sufficient to have an ordinary blind which can be pulled down. I do not know whether that is the answer, but I will query the situation. My notes specifically relate the provision of the Venetian blind to a possible overheating of the house, which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, assumed was the point intended.

On Question, Motion agreed to.