Section 61 — Insulation against noise

Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill: Final Stage – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:59 pm on 29th March 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:59 pm, 29th March 2006

Group 5 is on mitigation and maximum noise levels during operation—that also goes for noise levels in the chamber.

Amendment 10, in the name of Margaret Smith, is grouped with amendments 11, 12, 13, 15, 15A and 16.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

There are no statutory requirements for mitigation of noise from rail systems in Scotland, so we are left to judge for ourselves what is reasonable. The Minister for Transport and Telecommunications might like to give some thought to that matter in due course, given the tremendous progress that the Executive is making in bringing forward rail and tram projects.

My purpose in lodging the amendments in my name and in supporting those in the name of Donald Gorrie is to alleviate the worst impacts of noise from the tramline without imposing limits that would threaten the operation of the line. We each experience noise differently, as it is subjective, but excessive noise levels impact on communication, on work, on concentration and on rest and relaxation.

It is undoubtedly the case that the operation of the tramline will adversely affect many people's enjoyment of their homes and the amenity of their surroundings. Amendments 10 and 11 would change the noise insulation scheme from being optional to being a statutory requirement. That is a reasonable amendment that would give greater comfort to residents who might be affected.

Presiding Officer, could you clarify which other amendments in the group I can speak to?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

You can speak to all the amendments in the group.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Thank you.

Amendment 12, in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, and amendment 15, in the name of Donald Gorrie, deal with permissible noise levels. I have a degree of sympathy with those amendments and with their approach; I have a greater degree of sympathy for residents whose homes and gardens will be affected by tram noise. Unfortunately, I am unable to support amendment 12. I have spoken to an acoustic consultant about the issue and believe that the amendment would put the scheme in jeopardy.

Amendment 15 directly addresses the Roseburn wildlife corridor and walkway, which is a well-used local amenity that stretches from Drylaw to Craigleith, in my constituency, and beyond to Roseburn and Murrayfield. Until now, the corridor has enjoyed low levels of noise, in the region of 35dB. As members know, noise is measured on a logarithmic scale, so it is quite complicated for laypeople like us to understand. However, we know that the LAmax 60dB that is mentioned in amendment 15 is the level at which the World Health Organisation and countless studies state that people can be expected to experience sleep disturbance.

If the figure is taken to 70dB max for intermittent noise, we have a doubling; if it is taken to 80dB, we have a doubling again. Time and again, in noise studies from around the world, I have seen the levels that are proposed by the promoter associated with sleep disturbance and resident annoyance. That is why I am supporting amendments 15 and 15A. I believe that the noise levels that are covered in those amendments are reasonable and reflect British standards and WHO guidance.

The promoter has been using planning advice note 56 as a basis for its figure of 82dB. Having spoken to an acoustic consultant about the matter, I have great concerns about that approach, given that PAN 56 covers new housing that is being built next to an existing noise source, not the situation that we have here of a new noise source that is being built next to existing homes. We must also bear in mind the fact that new homes are better insulated. The promoter's noise level of 82dB was also chosen partly because that figure was chosen for the Merseyside tram, but the Merseyside scheme has now been scrapped.

Amendment 15 proposes what is probably the ideal noise level, but amendment 13 represents an attempt to increase the number of householders who will be entitled to noise insulation mitigation measures. Amendment 13 concentrates on night time, when disturbance will be worst.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Can the member explain why she uses the definition of L Amax slow rather than L Amax fast?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No, I cannot. I made my request to the parliamentary draftspeople and that is what they came back to me with. I think that it is linked to what was used by the promoter in the noise and vibration policy.

Amendment 13 tries to increase the number of householders who will be entitled to noise insulation mitigation measures. I appreciate that many objectors would see that as second best to reducing noise levels in the first place. I agree with that, but I think that it is reasonable to try to improve the last line of protection.

What amendment 13 asks for is different from what is asked for by the amendments in the names of Donald Gorrie and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. I am asking the Parliament to reduce the night-time trigger from LAeq 63dB to LAeq 60dB and the night-time figure for noise peaks from 82dB to 70dB. It is likely that decreasing the trigger levels will add no more than 200 homes to the scheme, at a cost of around £1,500 to £2,000 each, but that will make a significant difference to the quality of life in those homes.

Amendment 14 changes the definition of "night time" to the hours between 10 pm and 7 am. The man on the Clapham omnibus or, if it comes to pass, the man on the Edinburgh tram would see those times as being perfectly reasonable—10 pm is the time when many elderly people, especially, take to their beds. I hope that members will support amendment 14 and the other amendments in my name, as well as amendments 15 and 15A.

I move amendment 10.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Amendment 12 and amendment 16, which is consequential to it, seek to amend the noise and vibration policy that the promoter will rely on in dealing with the problem of operational noise. The amendments have been lodged on behalf of all citizens who live near the tramway, the operation of which has the potential—if we do not take great care—to keep children and possibly others awake at night.

Amendment 12 is the assertion of the principle that sleep disturbance should not be inflicted unnecessarily on any citizen, young or old, regardless of where they live.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I have quite a lot to say, but I will give way briefly.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Thank you. Does the member agree that expert advice suggests that L Aeq is a good indicator of noise, given that it measures fluctuating railway noise over time as a logarithmic average? Why has the member not used that?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I can answer very easily. It is because the World Health Organisation strongly recommends the standards that are contained in amendment 12. I am disappointed that the member does not accept the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, which she might well do in relation to other countries.

The purpose of amendment 12 is twofold: first, to prevent an outburst of extreme noise that would have a substantial and adverse effect, leading to disturbance of the sleep of persons living near the line; and, secondly, if that cannot be reasonably achieved, to provide for persons so affected an appropriate and proportionate level of compensation. The significance of the amendment lies in the fact that it deals with maximum rather than average noise levels—a distinction that would not be lost on the men, women and children who will be needlessly deprived of sleep. That is important because, as it stands, the noise and vibration policy makes no reference to LAmax, which is the maximum level of noise, but instead refers to LAeq, which refers to averaged-out noise levels. We need to deal with both.

Amendment 12 refers to a maximum level immediately outside the window of a property of LAmax 60dB. If that cannot be achieved reasonably, the LAmax should be 45dB inside the window. Those standards are recommended by BS 8233 and I understand that they are commonly applied daily by local authorities throughout the country, including the City of Edinburgh Council. The promoter has sought to rely on the far less robust measures that are contained in planning advice note 56. Adding weight to that, the World Health Organisation strongly recommends the noise levels that are contained in amendment 12 in the best interests of the good health of men, women and children.

I do not wish sleep disturbance to be inflicted on any family. Amendment 12 is a necessary improvement to the bill and it will create a deal of good will if it is accepted. I have lodged the amendment on behalf of the health of the nation. I will move amendments 12 and 16 at the appropriate time. I commend all the other amendments in the group on the same basis. Whether Margaret Smith votes for my amendment or not, I will support hers.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

Members might be surprised by the fact that I have lodged an amendment to amendment 15. The purpose of doing that is to give members an opportunity to vote separately on daytime and night-time noise because they might have different views on one as opposed to the other. Amendment 15 is about night-time noise, which the two previous speakers have dealt with to some extent.

The area that is covered by amendment 15 is an off-road walking and cycling path that runs from Roseburn to Crewe Toll. Forty years ago, it was a municipal railway line. The railway was eventually closed down and it is now a peaceful place where people cycle, walk and walk their dogs. I therefore think that it is a separate case from other parts of the proposed tramway that are on streets where there is already a lot of noise. I will support an improvement to public transport, but we do not want improvements in public services if it means that individuals do not get any sleep.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do not mean to be flippant, but people have been sleeping the length and breadth of Leith Walk for generations. What do we mean by the British standards members have mentioned? Do the same standards apply in Brussels or Oslo? If they do not, it would seem that no one in Oslo sleeps.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

The figures that I propose to use are accepted by the World Health Organisation, which I think covers Oslo and the other places mentioned. The people who live in Leith Walk do not have a single very noisy tram running straight past their doors every now and then. The argument that we should go for an average level of noise seems to me to be foolish. People are not woken up by an average level of noise; they are woken by a noise. If a tram makes a very loud noise, people will wake up and no amount of averaging affects that at all.

The peaceful existence that has hitherto been enjoyed by people living along the Roseburn corridor is going to be invaded by noise day and night from a large number of trams. Unless they are controlled, those trams will make a lot of noise. I propose that we limit the noise to 60dB LAmax. That figure is accepted by the World Health Organisation and by British standards. As the committee's report agrees, it is now

"more common for local authorities to rely on BS8233/WHO rather than PAN 56".

It is widely accepted that that is the right sort of figure to go for. PAN 56 relates to brand new houses with high-tech glazing. It does not refer to old houses with sash-and-case windows.

Moreover, I am advised that if people were to build new houses beside such a source of noise, the City of Edinburgh Council would in effect opt for the figure of LAmax 60dB, in that the maximum noise level inside such houses would not be allowed to exceed 45dB, which is the equivalent of 60dB on the edge of a house. Thus, there is widespread support for setting the maximum noise level at 60dB.

I pay tribute to the committee for its hard work and industry, but I have been led to believe by a considerable number of people who were involved in the bill that the information, arguments and opinions that were provided by the promoter and its allies left a great deal to be desired and should not be relied on. It is possible that the committee erred in taking too much notice of what such people said.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 3:15 pm, 29th March 2006

Does the member acknowledge that the committee took a range of advice from people other than the promoter? We felt that it was important that we had independent advice on which to frame our questioning.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I accept that, but we have a difference of opinion. I argue that the worldwide and British weight of opinion is for a maximum noise level of 60dB rather than 82dB.

I also argue that it is better to be on the safe side. The committee's consideration stage report stated that the aim was for a disturbance level of 25 per cent. Instead, we should aim for a zero disturbance level. That would not adversely affect the tramway, as the additional cost of the extra mitigation measures would be quite small and such measures are quite feasible.

Amendment 15 is not a wrecking amendment. The proposed change is quite sensible and would protect the sleep of thousands of people who live along that section of the line. We owe it to them to look after their interests. I urge members to consider the issues seriously, as the amendment is not about whether people are for or against the tramway. In considering the arguments, we should err on the side of the individuals who might need help if they are to get any peace if the promoter cuts corners during the construction of its tramline.

Amendment 15A would require that the maximum daytime noise level should not exceed 70dB. I hope that members will also consider that issue, but the night-time noise level is obviously the main issue. I urge members to take the issue seriously.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I rise to support amendments 10 and 11, in the name of Margaret Smith, but I will preface my remarks by highlighting how the present discussion illustrates not only the hard decisions that the bill presents us with but the difficulties that are thrown up by our current procedure for dealing with private bills.

I do not believe that it is appropriate for us to have such debates in a meeting of the full Parliament. The committee has spent two years considering this and many other issues in great detail. I am not prepared to overturn the series of reports that the committee prepared, the discussions and negotiations that it held and the representations from constituents and others that it weighed up. Alternative suggestions have been put in front of us today, but I am not prepared to overturn all that work on the basis of the short speeches that we have heard today.

That is not to say that I do not acknowledge that those views are held by various individuals, some of whom are probably my constituents who will let me know about their views afterwards. However, there is an issue about the process that we use to handle such bills. I am not prepared to take a chance by taking the word of people who have made a few short speeches in the chamber. I have read the committee's report. Like Margaret Smith, I have ploughed through some of the evidence sessions and I have attended many debates and meetings on the issue in my constituency.

However, I am prepared to support amendments 10 and 11. Having read many bills, I know that a change from "may" to "shall" is not a huge change in legislative terms, but it is a symbolic change. It says to our constituents and people who are potentially affected by the trams that the authorised undertaker shall,

"after consulting the Council, make a scheme providing for the making of grants towards the cost of insulating buildings, or such classes of buildings", as are appropriate. It is important that we put that level of comfort in the bill, given the range of concerns that have been expressed and the work that the committee has done on the issue. I understand that the committee is not unhappy with the amendments.

It is important that we reassure people, but we must get the issue in perspective. There is a limit to what we can do in plenary session when debating a bill such as this. I very much look forward to a new transport and works act, which will allow us to debate issues in a different kind of framework, with different kinds of expertise at the top table. We do not have that today. My judgment is to rely on the work that the committee has done over the past two years, with the amendments that Margaret Smith has lodged.

I understand that the amendments in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton would mean that we would never build railways except in tunnels. There is a debate about what the appropriate noise levels are. I am not prepared, on the basis of a brief discussion in the chamber this afternoon, to overturn the consideration and work of the committee.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I am sorry, Lord James. The member is down.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I want to place this debate about noise and its control in a broader context and to relate my experience and, I suspect, that of Brian Adam in that connection. Our constituents are heavily affected by aircraft noise. In Clydebank, 800 persons are within the 63dB contour that was mentioned and 4,350 persons are within the 60dB contour. Significantly greater numbers of people are affected by aircraft noise than will be affected by the trams. In Aberdeen, the relevant figure for the 63dB contour is 900 persons and there are 3,300 persons within the 60dB contour.

My constituents and I are very interested in issues of insulation, noise protection and so on, but the question with which we are dealing is much bigger than the tram scheme. It would be welcome if Sarah Boyack and the minister could give us some reassurance that both the Environment and Rural Development Committee and the minister will examine issues of transport noise and the rights of people who are affected by it. In my constituency and, I suspect, Brian Adam's, the number of planes flying over both at night and during the day has increased considerably in recent years. That is a big nuisance for people in the affected areas. The Parliament should pay close attention to the issue.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I call Brian Adam. Please speak to the amendments.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The amendments that we are debating specify a maximum noise level. The current arrangements are for average noise levels. Des McNulty is correct to say that, in similar circumstances, many people are affected by noise, although an average figure is not breached. People are disturbed by events, not by averages. If we set a maximum noise level, that will be more helpful to those who will be affected by noise. I echo Des McNulty's comments on that point.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Members will already be aware that if they take an intervention from Jackie Baillie on the subject of noise this afternoon, they do so at their peril.

I will make two points on this complex issue. First, I am with Sarah Boyack on the theme of her remarks. That in no way belittles the amendments that Margaret Smith, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and Donald Gorrie have lodged. However, the committee that the Parliament set up to consider these matters has done so in considerable detail, as Donald Gorrie accepted. Parliament will wish to recognise and take cognisance of the fact that the committee took independent advice on the issues.

Secondly, I note that the cost of the amendments has not been made clear. As the Parliament would expect, we have been concerned that it might be prohibitive and have implications for the scheme. Therefore, we do not support amendments 12, 13, 15, 15A and 16. However, we are content to support amendments 10 and 11. We agree with the promoter and the committee that what amendments 10 and 11 seek to do is already implicit in the bill as a result of the enforceability of the noise and vibration policy. Amendments 10 and 11 reinforce that position.

I take the points that members have made about noise, but they relate to various areas in the transport portfolio.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The committee took many hours of evidence on noise before reaching its conclusions. Given that we acknowledge that the topic is extremely complex, I hope that members will afford me some leeway in trying to condense the committee's consideration in a few minutes for members in the chamber today. I was not deliberately trying to trip members up by asking technical questions about noise, although I was perhaps using it as a device to illustrate that we have taken considerable time to understand the complexities of the subject. I am grateful to Sarah Boyack and Tavish Scott for recognising that.

I will provide the chamber with a little lesson on noise—although members have probably already had that lesson from the Presiding Officer. The terms "sound" and "noise" tend to be used interchangeably, but noise can be defined as an unwanted sound. Sound is a normal and desirable part of life, but when noise, for example from industry, construction, transportation or—dare I say it—unwanted comment in the chamber, is imposed on people, it can lead to disturbance, annoyance and other undesirable effects.

It is relatively straightforward to measure sound physically with a sound level meter. However, it is much more difficult to measure perceived loudness and the effects that that might cause. Noise levels do not add up according to simple linear arithmetic. For example, adding two equal noise sources results in a combined noise level that is only 3dB higher than individual levels.

I will illustrate that to members with an example that I hope they will all remember. They will remember the wonderful bagpipe players we all used to enjoy in our other home when we were trying to work. One bagpipe player would create a certain level of noise, but if there were two, the level would increase by only 3dB. If there were four bagpipe players, only 6dB extra would register. If there were eight players, perhaps 9dB more would register, which is less than double the noise created by one bagpipe player and less than one would expect. A relatively large change in sound energy is needed before it is perceived by our ear to be louder or quieter. It is generally accepted that an increase of 10dB is perceived to be a doubling of noise and a decrease of 10dB is perceived to be a halving of noise.

I will now explain how noise is measured and explained—[Interruption.] I ask members to please listen.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am following Jackie Baillie closely, but I am curious to know how many bagpipes it takes to make a noise, as distinct from a sound.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

If Christine Grahame was listening earlier to my little lesson on noise, she would know that noise is an unwanted sound. However, for some people, one bagpipe player might make a pleasurable sound. I hope that that answers the member's question.

Noise metrics are used to measure the variation of noise over time. Two commonly used measures about which we have heard are LAeq and LAmax. LAeq is called the continuous equivalent sound level. It represents a varying noise level by calculating the constant noise level that would have the same sound energy content over the measurement period. As LAeq is a logarithmic average and not an arithmetic one, it has been found to be a good indicator of the effects of a noise that comprises a series of varying signals over a period, exactly as one would expect from railway noise.

LAmax is a measure of the maximum noise level. For railway noise, it is the highest level experienced when the vehicle passes, usually occurring directly in front of the receptor location. LAmax is a useful metric when considering sleep disturbance, so it is used in conjunction with LAeq to assess the impact from railway noise.

Three sets of guidance are commonly utilised to determine acceptable noise levels to protect against sleep disturbance, but none of them applies specifically to railway noise. There is no statutory requirement to mitigate noise from railways in Scotland, but the promoter produced a noise and vibration policy, dated March 2005, to set out its approach to mitigating noise. The policy was amended to address the committee's concerns and it was subsequently incorporated in the bill at section 63C, which ensures that the policy must be complied with.

Among other purposes, the policy seek to ensure that, through the design of the track and track bed, and the procurement of modern tram systems, all reasonable, practical measures are taken to avoid significant noise impacts. Where significant noise still arises, the policy proposes a tiered approach to mitigation, with noise barriers to be provided to attenuate noise in the first instance. Once that mitigation is in place, should noise levels still exceed the thresholds, noise insulation will be made available.

Let me turn now to the content and effect of the amendments in group 5. I will say a little bit about the process because the subject of noise and vibration is highly technical and the committee was conscious of the need to get it right, which was why we took months over it. As I said earlier, we commissioned a report from independent experts because of the complexity of the matter and the conflicting written evidence that we received. We wanted our own, independent report from experts in the field to inform our approach to oral evidence on noise and vibration. The report proved particularly helpful in our testing of the oral evidence, particularly that from the promoter's experts, which has come in for criticism today. It enabled us to ensure that we fully understood the issues when we wrote our report. With respect, I say that the members who are moving amendments today have not had the benefit of that knowledge.

I have considerably more to say, Presiding Officer, but you are indicating that I should wind up. I will home in on one matter. Sarah Boyack rightly focused on the 45dB limit that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton proposes. She said that that limit was so low that if it were applied to new railways, it would mean that in future railways could be built only in tunnels. If the suggested noise limits were adopted, we would never be able to build a road again either, unless it was in a tunnel. I urge members therefore to support amendments 10 and 11 but to reject all others in group 5.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Presiding Officer, could you clarify whether it is just amendment 10 or whether it is all the amendments in the group?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Oh, right. Well, I am happy to accept members' support for amendment 10 and, indeed, for amendment 11.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

You can wind up on the whole group, of course, but you should say whether you are pressing amendment 10 and taking it to a vote. Are you content to do that?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I am pressing amendment 10. I have a few comments on other amendments in the group. I will not attempt to add to the committee convener's helpful lesson on noise, but I would say in passing that, having been a member of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee for several years, I have had to listen to evidence on noise and vibration on several occasions. My colleague Ted Brocklebank indicates that he agrees.

I am pleased that the Executive will accept amendments 10 and 11, which will give greater comfort to some local residents. I do not disagree with Sarah Boyack's comments on the work that the committee put in and about the amendments not being the right way to go about matters. However, when we deal with the proposed transport and works bill, we will have to consider seriously the role of MSPs outside the committee and how they can influence the procedure. The current system has given those of us who represent the affected areas no other place, over a period of years, in which to bring forward our concerns, other than a three or four-minute speech in the preliminary stage debate.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Of course, like all other members, the member was free to attend the committee's meetings and make her points there.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

At meetings over many months, I have been asked—as has Sarah Boyack—whether we would lodge amendments. However, we could not say what we would be amending because the committee was still deliberating. We gave the committee a chance to deliberate and it has done a very good job in the main. However, some concerns remain, and there has been no time in the process, other than here today, for us to address those concerns. The Parliament will have to consider an alternative procedure for the future.

I will support amendments 15 and 15A, in the name of Donald Gorrie, which are clearly different from amendment 12, in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. Margo MacDonald, Sarah Boyack and Jackie Baillie have said that amendment 12 would make the scheme unworkable, and their points were well made. However, amendments 15 and 15A are particular to the Roseburn corridor, where the ambient noise is very low at the moment. The WHO and British standards figures are reasonable in that context.

Edinburgh airport is in my constituency, so I have a great deal of sympathy with Des McNulty's comments. The Environment and Rural Development Committee, under Sarah Boyack's convenership, might want to consider the whole issue of noise. Whether caused by trams or bagpipes, 82dB is a lot of noise. Amendment 13, on mitigation, seeks to give some peace to the few hundred people who will be affected badly by the trams.

In the report of the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee, and in the evidence taken by the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee, we find that noise experts will tell us all kinds of different things. In the past week or so, I have spent more time than I would like to admit in trying to read my way through the various views of various noise experts. It is more of a black art than a science. I ask members to support amendments 10, 11 and 13, in my name, and amendments 15 and 15A, in the name of Donald Gorrie.

Amendment 10 agreed to.

Amendment 11 moved—[Margaret Smith]—and agreed to.