HC Deb 28 November 1995 vol 267 cc575-6W
Sir Roger Moate

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the number of complaints he has received in the current year from Kent residents about(a) noise and (b) vibration from the Shoeburyness firing range; how many exceptionally loud detonations have taken place; what procedures are adopted to reduce inconvenience to the minimum possible; and what is the role of the establishment within the defence strategy. [2439]

Mr. Arbuthnot

This is a matter for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency under its framework document. I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from John Chisholm to Sir Roger Moate, dated 28 November 1995: Your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Defence about complaints from Kent Residents on the activities at the Shoeburyness range has been passed to me to reply as the Chief Executive of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) which includes the Defence Test and Evaluation Organisation (DTEO), of which Shoeburyness is a part, as one of its divisions. You asked about the role of DTEO Shoeburyness. The site has developed over the last 140 years to provide a large land area and firm tidal sands which are used to test, trial and dispose of weapons and munitions for the Ministry of Defence. In more detail there are four main strands of activity.

  1. a. The Dynamic Trials Section conducts a wide variety of trials and proof testing involving guided weapons, tank ordnance and artillery systems. The use of the tidal sands gives the section the capability to observe end trajectory functioning out to 24km.
  2. b. The Static Trials Section conducts a wide range of trials on all explosive items and targets. The section also tests ballistic body armour and explosive suppression techniques.
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  4. c. The Environmental Test Centre (ETC) on Foulness Island is the focus of excellence within DTEO Shoeburyness for all matters relating to safe handling, transportation and storage of military and potentially hazardous stores.
  5. d. Shoeburyness is also a world leader in the development of Conventional Munitions Disposal techniques and has developed a modern integrated range of facilities for the safe, efficient and environmentally benign demilitarisation of ammunition and explosives.
The number of complaints in any year is variable depending on the programme of work we have underway for the MOD. The number of complaints has increased since Shoeburyness undertook large scale demilitarisation at the end of 1993 as a result of the UK signing the 1989 Oslo Convention Agreement which banned deep sea dumping of ammunition. The staff at Shoeburyness have taken a number of steps to minimise the effects of noise on the local population. Before any firings take place an acoustic forecast is undertaken which predicts the likely noise effect over the surrounding area. If conditions are such that disturbance might be caused on any one or more centres of population then firings are postponed, where possible, until conditions are more favourable. The acoustic forecast is backed up by a number of noise monitors, three of which are on the Kent coast, which give an accurate, real time, indication of what noise is actually being propagated. If these results show an unacceptable level of noise, then trials or firings are, if possible, postponed until conditions are more favourable. The management at Shoeburyness has also implemented a policy of encouraging local residents to get in touch with staff at the site if they feel they have a complaint. Details of how to do this have been widely advertised in the local press. We have also tried, by open days at the site, to explain to local people the reason for the noise and the very important role that Shoeburyness fulfils for the Ministry of Defence. We also try to deal sympathetically with claims from members of the public who feel that our activities may have caused damage to their property. Since January 1995 the complaints regarding noise and vibration from residents in Kent have totalled 290 compared with 336 for the full year in 1994. There have been 26 days so far in 1995 on which one or more of the three Kent monitors have recorded noise above 130 decibels. It should be pointed out, however, that the monitors register all noise, not just that from Shoeburyness. Our statistics do not break down between noise and vibration. The vibrations are, in fact, the result of a low frequency noise side effect. I hope you find this information helpful.