HC Deb 18 October 1990 vol 177 cc878-81W
Mr. Jessel

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish the report of the noise review working party; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The report of the working party is being published today and copies are being made available in the Library.

The working party was chaired by Mr. W. J. S. Batho and included representatives of local government, industry and voluntary bodies. I am most grateful for their efforts and pleased with the outcome.

The report is most timely in view of current public concern about noise pollution and I welcome the wide range of recommendations it contains. This is the most thorough review of noise control to take place since the Control of Pollution Act (COPA) was passed in 1974. Although we have no reason to believe that the framework of that Act is seriously defective, we are aware that the number of complaints about noise has more than doubled in the last decade.

On the basis of current knowledge the Government are satisfied that adequate controls exist to ensure that people in their homes, workplaces and when travelling are not exposed to levels of noise which threaten their health. We are concerned to lessen the exposure of people to levels of noise which constitute a nuisance, but have to weigh reductions against feasibility and cost. The risk of exposure to high noise levels is increasing: we travel more, own more sound reproduction equipment, use more machinery. We also have better equipment to measure and control noise. So both the challenge and opportunity are there for us to improve our procedures.

The Government have already acted on many of the report's recommendations. Local authorities' basic duties have been clarifed in the Environmental Protection Bill. The index for measuring aircraft noise has been changed. The working party's thinking is reflected in the noise chapter of the Environmental White Paper. The report contains a wide range of recommendations, many acceptable in principle, and they will all be seriously considered. The following paragraphs set out the Government's initial response to each chapter.

Planning and Noise. The Government are committed to revising DOE circular 10/73 (Welsh Office 16/73). Scottish Development Department circular 23/73 will be also be revised. It is accepted in principle that all potentially noisy development activities should be taken into account, including road, rail and air transport, sport, entertainment and countryside recreation. It is already recognised that inevitably noisy short-term activities such as construction may need to be controlled under nuisance legislation as well as by conditions imposed on planning permission: the controls on mineral working sites are the subject of a minerals planning guidance note, and controls on oil and gas extraction and landfills will be reviewed. The principle of three action levels is accepted and guidance will be developed. Local authorities are already empowered to require applicants for potentially noisy development to supply relevant information which can include noise implications.

Neighbourhood Noise. The Government are well aware of concern about neighbourhood noise from correspondence and debates as well as the increase in formal complaints to local authorities. The basic framework of control by abatement orders seems sound, but some improvements are needed. The need to clarify the duty on authorities to inspect their areas and investigate complaints was picked up at an early stage in the review and consulted on: an appropriate amendment has already been made to the Environmental Protection Bill. Many authorities already investigate complaints and operate an out of office hours service where appropriate.

The Government are sponsoring a pilot "quiet neighbourhood" scheme. The first part of the pilot will involve establishing the scheme through local organisations and is likely to be in place by the end of the year. The second part will involve monitoring the scheme once it is operating. Our aim is that if the pilot scheme is a success we will issue guidance to those interested in setting up schemes on how best to go about it. Discussions by the research contractor on where the pilot scheme is to be set up are at an advanced stage—it is likely to be a London borough—and a further announcement will be made shortly.

The creation of new offences for allowing buildings and open spaces to be used for noisy activities will be considered in the context of entertainment noise. We aim to devise simpler and more practical procedures for noise abatement zones. Consideration will be given to improving control over noisy activities on the highway, such as car repairs, which may cause a nuisance but are not adequately covered by existing legislation. DoE will publish further material designed to encourage responsible attitudes to noise and its prevention, and is aware of others produced by voluntary bodies and local associations.

Transport Noise. The Government are examining the feasibility of measuring vehicle noise in the annual MOT test and when inspecting vehicles at the roadside. We shall consider whether compensation in respect of road traffic noise should be paid on a sliding scale and whether it would be practicable to extend compensation to those affected by permanent traffic management schemes. We are concerned also to ensure parity of treatment for those who live near roads and those who live near railway lines. We have appointed a committee to recommend a national noise insulation standard for new railway lines, and we are considering an alternative to the private Bill procedure. We shall explore the idea of noise standards in the construction and use of trains.

The Government agree that noise created by the take-off and landing of aircraft from airfields and flight according to the rules of navigation should continue to be controlled under aviation law rather than COPA. We will continue to encourage airfield managements and in appropriate cases to require them to consult local authorities and local people about the management or administration of their aerodromes, which includes operational measures to reduce exposure to noise. Further thought will be given as to whether a clearer framework is needed for controlling noise from light or recreational aircraft, low flying, ground running and helicopters landing outside airfields.

Alarms. The Government propose to introduce mandatory controls for burglar alarms and will examine how car alarms can be improved.

Entertainment Noise We will issue guidance on the application of current legislation to the control of large parties. The Government will consult organisers and local authority associations with a view to establishing a code of conduct.

Noise within Buildings. The Government are aiming—for England and Wales—to extend the building regulations sound insulation requirements for new buildings, as far as practicable to cover flat conversions as they already do in Scotland. The need to ensure that insulation work can be properly inspected will be considered.

Codes of Practice. The Government recognise the value of codes of practice and will work with interested parties to complete and issue the codes currently under discussion and to consider the case for further codes. The value of guidance leaflets is accepted, especially in the area of neighbourhood noise.

Research DOE will continue to sponsor a comprehensive programme of research on noise, which will include all the topics highlighted in the report—human response to noise, noise watch schemes, action thresholds, low-frequency noise and building insulation testing. The Department of Transport already has a major programme of research on transport noise, but will consider whether further research is necessary to formulate a common measure for the assessment of noise from all the main forms of transport. The Health and Safety Executive will sponsor research on noise in the workplace.

A further statement will be made next summer on the progress made in our deliberations.