New Clause 7 - Noise act 1996: requirement for consultation

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 1st February 2005.

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'The appropriate person shall consult the appropriate bodies on the need for regulations to extend the provisions of the Noise Act 1996 (c. 37) to the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., to enable any individual present in a dwelling to make a complaint to the relevant local authority that excessive noise was being emitted from another dwelling during those hours.'. —[Miss McIntosh.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 10—National Noise Reduction Strategy—

'(1) The Secretary of State shall have a National Noise Reduction Strategy.

(2) The strategy shall address any nuisance or health problems resulting from environmental noise, with particular regard to—

(a) neighbour and neighbourhood noise;

(b) noise from industrial and commercial premises;

(c) works noise;

(d) alarms;

(e) transport and traffic noise; and

(f) any other noises or sources of noise that the Secretary of State believes require particular attention as part of the strategy.

(3) The Secretary of State shall publish an annual report on progress made by the strategy.'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I hope the new clause will appeal to the Minister, as his Department, or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, released a consultation paper on ambient noise strategy that attracted attention because it did not include neighbourhood noise. The Government proposed a separate strategy to deal with neighbour noise issues, which everyone seemed to think would encompass some neighbourhood noise strategy as part of the Bill.

During consultation on the noise and clean neighbourhood strategies, did the Minister receive representations on building regulations in respect of insulation, especially noise insulation between accommodation units? Considering the time that the Government devoted to discussionson chewing gum and dog mess—albeit worth while—it would be a source of satisfaction to those organisations who are concerned about noise if the Government introduced a clause on it.

I accept that in some situations noise may be no more than a minor irritant, but for the majority of people who report noise problems, the situation is quite different. The new clause recognises that in semi-detached residential properties, in flats or new developments and in the tenement flats in Glasgow and Edinburgh, noise can cause severe nuisance. The Government could consider a number of alternative strategies. One could be a greater use of tenancy agreements to tackle neighbour noise nuisance. In guidance from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Government said in August 2004 that landlords would be required to draw up statements on how they would deal with antisocial behaviour and antisocial behaviour orders. However, the Government and the Minister must recognise that local authorities and housing associations are often reluctant to deal with those who perpetrate such noise and have other social problems. It is incumbent on local authorities to try to help tenants work through their problems.

I know from my constituency case work, my surgery case work and my constituency mail bag that the problem seems to be on the increase. Rather than evict tenants, it is incumbent on local authorities, or increasingly on housing associations, to try to resolve the problem or to re-house them. That poses a particular problem in areas such as the Vale of York, where we have insufficient social housing or affordable homes. Indeed, over the past seven and a half to eight years, housing stock has substantially decreased.

Why have the Department not produced another noise strategy and why is there no reference in the Bill to poor sound insulation? I hope that the Government will be minded to look sympathetically on the new clause, which would bring a provision into the remit of the Bill—as with other forms of noise pollution, such as audible alarms and the need for a responsible person—for an appropriate person who will

''consult the appropriate bodies on the need for regulations to extend the provisions of the Noise Act 1996 (c.37) to the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. to enable any individual present in a dwelling to  make a complaint to the relevant local authority that excessive noise was being emitted from another dwelling during those hours.''

Obviously, that raises a particular issue when tenants might simply not get on. I hope that the Government would consider that, if they were minded to adopt the new clause. We would seek to prevent vexatious and malicious reporting of noise pollution, but the purpose of the new clause is to seek Government support for real issues of noise pollution, to ask why they have not seen fit to legislate on them. We ask them to look kindly on new clause 7 and to adopt it as their own.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I agree with the hon. Lady's early remarks; we need a national noise reduction strategy. I welcome the work that the Government have done on noise nuisance. We know that that work has been extensive—it is not the sort of problem that one solves overnight—and was important in enabling DEFRA to meet its objectives for protecting the environment and enhancing quality of life and public health. We need action to follow that research, and we want to press that point with the Government: having carried out their noise nuisance research programme, where will it lead?

We have talked about specific sorts of noise, but discussion has been limited. We have neighbour and neighbourhood noise, and we need to know more about the sort of noise that we get from industrial and commercial premises. In particular, we need to know more about lower-level noise and vibration, as noise is not all the same.

Transport and traffic noise is a problem. Some of us have constituents who live next to busy roads or roads that have recently become busy, such as the A3 as it runs through my constituency. The character of that area has changed enormously, as traffic flows have changed and raised the noise to unbearable levels for some of my constituents. Yet, there is nothing that triggers action by the Department for Transport to deal with a road. One might go to see the Minister and they might say, ''Well, there isn't any money''. However, as noise levels rise to unacceptable levels we start needing a strategy.

Other issues include train horns, which since the introduction of new rolling stock have made the lives of many of our constituents a misery. They are much noisier than previous horns, so there is a problem. I have been fighting on behalf of my constituents with the Rail Safety and Standards Board for a long time to ensure that they are used only when necessary and not above a certain decibel level. What else can be done?

Those sorts of things could be done nationally as opposed to individual MPs trying to pick off the train operating companies as they go through their constituencies. There are a couple of Virgin Trains a day in my constituency, part of the constituency gets First Great Western Link trains—it has been less responsive—and South West Trains is doing a little more. Possibly, there could be a national guideline   about broadband horns, which are far more directional. At a stroke, the problem that has arisen during the past two or three years could be dealt with.

We need the strategy. There is a lot more that Government could put in. Our proposal is a probe, and I hope it will encourage them to move forward from the work that they have done researching the problem towards making an announcement about how they intend to mitigate against it.

We cannot underestimate the problem. As this island gets more crowded, as we build homes closer to one another and as people have to live next door to industrial plants as a result of the shortage of building land, such things become imperative. We need to get a grip now, before the situation gets worse.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May I summarise what I was going to say by saying that proposed new clause 7 asks for something that we have already done and proposed new clause 10 asks for something that is already in hand?

The hon. Member for Guildford made it clear that she was proposing the measure as a probing new clause and was kind enough to acknowledge the work that the Government have done. New clause 7 simply proposes that we consult on extending the Noise Act 1996. There was no call to extend it in the ''clean neighbourhoods'' consultation and there is no consensus that the Noise Act methodology is the best way of dealing with noise during the day.

There has been extensive consultation over a considerable period. A lot of good work has been done with local authorities on the sort of issues in the Bill, and, indeed on other ideas that we have not brought forward where they were not supported by the evidence.

As for new clause 10, the Government are committed to developing noise strategies, and I want to refer specifically to two. The neighbourhood noise strategy will include a thorough review of existing legislation on noise and consideration of ways in which noise from domestic, business and industrial premises can be reduced.

There is a comprehensive research programme to inform that strategy, and that is the research to which the hon. Member for Guildford referred. Initial research has scoped the extent of the problem of neighbourhood noise and the sources that are the cause of such nuisance. Current research is aimed at producing pioneering guidance to local authorities for assessing noise to improve their ability to deal with various types of noise nuisance where that has proved difficult. Any hon. Member who has dealt with noise issues in constituency case work will know that it is not an area where there is a magic wand or simple solution. Policy recommendations will be developed with the co-operation of all interested parties, which clearly includes the Local Government Association, and we intend to start consulting on the strategy this year.

The Government are also committed to developing a national ambient noise strategy to tackle noise from industry and from major forms of transport, including road, rail and aircraft. As hon. Members will   appreciate, that is a different type of noise—often an underlying and pervasive one—which needs different types of responses.

Development of the national ambient noise strategy is a three-phase process. The first phase is underway and that involves analysing the ambient noise climate in England. In simple terms, that means determining the number of people affected by different levels of noise, the source of that noise and the locations of those affected. I have seen some of the work going on, and the scientists and technologies involved. It is very complicated but very impressive, and I think that it will lead to results that will go in the direction in which the hon. Member for Guildford seeks to take us.

The work is being done through the Noise Mapping England project, a nationwide programme to map noise from major transport and industrial sources. Mapping on that scale has never been attempted; the project is a pioneering exercise. Mapping standards for London road traffic and Heathrow have already been completed, as have pilot studies for mapping noise from rail and industry. Other studies include the mapping of noise from road traffic in major urban areas and from major roads; that is also in hand.

Once the results of the mapping project are known, noise hot spots and less noisy areas can be identified and we will be able to determine the extent of any noise problems throughout the country. That will help us to identify where measures are needed to target problem areas.

In addition, the adverse effects of noise and the techniques available to take action to improve the situation will be investigated, along with methodologies for economic analysis. The result of the research will be evaluated and priorities for action identified. The Government will then develop the necessary policies to tackle the issues identified.

What I have described can sometimes sound general in its input. However, I know, for instance, that steps have been taken by colleagues at the Department for Transport to consider, where roads are being maintained, laying a surface that has a less intrusive impact on the local community. That is to the immediate benefit of people who are in the vicinity of some of our roads that have higher volumes of traffic.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 4:30 pm, 1st February 2005

I appreciate what the Minister says about resurfacing roads; we are familiar with the issue of new surfaces. However, at the moment resurfacing is very reliant on normal programmes for roads within the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency. People are often told that resurfacing will take place, perhaps, five years hence. Five years is a long time to live with the misery of road noise.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

For crying out loud, of course it takes time. Changing the surfaces of roads cannot be done overnight. Even the elastic Liberal Democrat 1p on income tax would be unlikely to produce the money to   resurface all roads in a single year. Many of the hon. Lady's suggestions have been helpful and constructive, but, if I may say so, that last remark was not very wise.

Eighty-nine per cent. of consultation responses on whether the strategy that I have outlined should be developed supported the Government's approach. We are also implementing the environmental noise directive, which requires us to make noise maps for major urban areas, major roads, railways and airports. We are required to use those maps to produce noise action plans for major urban areas and transport links, and to manage noise issues and effects—including noise reduction, if necessary. Those plans will be drawn up in full consultation with the public and interested parties.

As for any amendment to building regulations, that will be a matter for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and is not related to the issue under discussion. However, I can say that noises in buildings will be dealt with in the neighbourhood noise strategy. We are about to publish the research report on noise problems and suggested solutions related, for example, to laminated floors. Many things come down to very specific circumstances, and we will set up an industry steering group to take proposals forward on the basis of that research.

A great deal is going on. We intend to launch both the strategies that I have referred to in 2007, because there is an enormous amount of work being done to ensure that they are effective and comprehensive. I ask the hon. Member for Vale of York to withdraw the new clause and support the Government's approach, which is to tackle noise problems in a way that is comprehensive and viable for the long term.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I listened with great interest to what the Minister said. Only towards the end of his remarks did he address the points made in the new clause. The fact that the Government are considering a noise strategy for transport is welcome. The Minister mentioned delivery vans and there is also the problem of some road surfaces being noisier than others, although I do not know whether the Minister mentioned that.

I should perhaps declare an interest, in that RAF Linton-on-Ouse, one of the only two—I think—remaining RAF training bases, is in my constituency. There are perhaps more circuits and bumps there than at any other airport outside Heathrow, which allegedly leads to noise pollution. The purpose of the new clause was not to address those points, but to elicit from the Minister what stage the ambient noise strategy was at, which he talked about.

I think that the Minister said that he would not accept the new clause, regrettably. His reasoning is that such matters would more appropriately fall to the ODPM. The problem with that is that, equally, other provisions in the Bill would fall more appropriately either to the Home Office or the ODPM.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am not sure how the hon. Lady has come to misinterpret what I said when I referred to the changes in building regulations as matters for the ODPM and falling outside the scope of the Bill—   indeed, building regulations are dealt with by existing legislation. That is why I suggested that her remarks should be addressed elsewhere. I am happy, and have been throughout, to deal with issues arising within the Bill that fall to other Departments as well as DEFRA. However, when matters fall outside the scope of the Bill and where existing legislation deals with changes to building regulations, it seems entirely inappropriate to respond more fully than I have already.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Order. We have probably heard quite enough about building regulations. I remind the Committee that we dealing with new clauses 7 and 10, on which I ask the hon. Member for Vale of York to concentrate her thoughts and remarks.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have not mentioned building regulations during this stage of our proceedings, although I mentioned them earlier and I am grateful for the Minister's comments. On reflection, we should like to press new clause 7 to a vote.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

The purpose of our new clause was to probe the Government. We knew that there was more to be done. Having stressed the need to take a much stronger view of the nuisance of noise in all its different forms and having heard the Minister's reply on that, we will not press new clause 10.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 10.

Division number 8 Nimrod Review — Statement — New Clause 7 - Noise act 1996: requirement for consultation

Aye: 2 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

McIntosh, Miss Anne

Ruffley, Mr. David

Simmonds, Mr. Mark

NOES

Ainger, Mr. Nick

Bradley, Peter

Doughty, Sue

Drew, Mr. David

Green, Matthew

Hall, Patrick

McDonagh, Siobhain

Michael, Alun

Tipping, Paddy

Turner, Mr. Neil

Question accordingly negatived.