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Surrey: M25 Noise Pollution

Part of Private Rented Sector – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 17th March 2020.

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Photo of Jonathan Lord Jonathan Lord Conservative, Woking 4:30 pm, 17th March 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered M25 noise pollution in Surrey.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and I am delighted to have secured this debate.

The issue at hand is a simple one. Between junctions 10 and 11 on the M25, the surface of the motorway consists of concrete blocks. The concrete surface itself is noisy, and there are gaps between each of the concrete blocks that constitute the road. The repetitive buffeting that occurs as a vehicle’s tyres pass over these expansion joints adds substantially to the overall noise levels. Take it from me, Sir Gary, it is unpleasant and noisy to drive on, and it causes noise pollution for several thousand of my constituents who live in Byfleet, West Byfleet and Pyrford. The noise is so loud and incessant that it can regularly carry for up to 3 km or so, but when the wind is in certain directions, it can also affect those who live up to 4 km away.

The noise is, of course, also heard by residents living and working near the M25 in the neighbouring constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend and neighbour Dr Spencer for his diligent work and support on this important matter, and to his predecessor, the right hon. Philip Hammond, with whom I have also liaised closely on this in previous years. I also acknowledge the work and campaigning of the key members of the M25 J10-11 Action Group, who have highlighted this matter very effectively since forming their group in June 2019, and the leadership of that organisation by Councillor Amanda Boote, who has brought formidable amounts of drive and energy to that role.

Some 20 years ago, the then Labour Government announced their commitment to replacing or overlaying all concrete main roads with lower-noise materials by 31 March 2011, irrespective of maintenance needs. Sadly, during a subsequent Labour Government’s spending review—in 2008, I believe—it was considered that that commitment was no longer affordable, presumably due to fiscal tightening in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Since then I have been told by Highways England and by Ministers that, while they appreciate the concerns of residents, there are currently no plans to resurface the 7 km section of the M25. They have assured me and my constituents that they are looking for ways to improve the situation, and Highways England has recently done work to repair failed joints in the concrete carriageways.

However, it is clear to all those who use this section of the M25 that the driving experience is still unpleasant and noisy, and the feedback so far from local residents is that the work has not made an appreciable difference to the overall noise levels for surrounding communities. At one point in our recent correspondence, Highways England told me that it does not now resurface a concrete road unless it is strictly needed from the point of view of driving safety, and that in the case of the M25, with continued maintenance, it did not expect the road to need resurfacing for many years to come.

But what about the lives of residents who have to put up with these unacceptable noise levels? Why should residents be kept awake at night? Why should residents not be able to enjoy their gardens in summertime or even be able to open their windows? What about the impact on teachers and children, who cannot help hearing this noise in their schools? Mrs Letitia Mackie, the deputy head of Byfleet primary school, told me the other week:

“Byfleet primary school lies directly beside the M25, at a stretch where the concrete is in place. Our children and families live within the catchment area for the school and many of their homes are very close to the M25 as well. The sound of the vehicles rumbling over the concrete can be heard in our playground and on a windy day it tends to be even louder. However, at night the sound carries much further and many of our pupils speak of not being able to sleep, or having a disturbed night, every night. Sleep is a major factor in growing up to be healthy and strong, and we are very concerned that some of our children have had this sleep disruption all of their lives. How has this affected their ability to learn and what are the long-term health issues that they may face? It is a serious limiting factor in our aim to enable each child to reach their full potential.”

Those are wise words, expressing genuine concerns.

Surely something must be done about this issue. Doubtless the cost of resurfacing this section of road will be high, but I am confident that that cost pales in comparison with the damage that this section of road is doing to the lives of thousands of my constituents and their children.

Last month, my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge and I joined members of the M25 J10-11 Action Group to deliver a petition signed by over 3,000 local residents to No. 10 Downing Street. The petition is not asking for every motorway section in the UK to be resurfaced and nor is it asking for the other concrete sections of the M25 to be resurfaced where there are no built-up or residential neighbourhoods nearby. However, it is petitioning for the carriageway between junctions 10 and 11 to be resurfaced properly, so that residents and pupils can enjoy their lives without this incessant noise.

The petition read as follows:

“The petition of the residents of Woking declares that the resurfacing work and noise reduction must be carried out on the M25 between junctions 10 and 11…further that these residents, children attending local schools and people who work in the area have been and are currently adversely affected by the ever increasing volume of traffic and continued deterioration of the original surface;
and acknowledges that an online petition for drivers has collected a significant number of signatures calling for the resurfacing of the road. The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport and Highways England to fully resurface and significantly reduce the noise levels on the M25 between junctions 10 and 11.”

On 3 March, I received an answer to two written parliamentary questions, which I believe is the most recent formal response on this important matter that I have received to date from either Ministers or Highways England. The reply from the Minister who is here today—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Kelly Tolhurst—read as follows:

“Highways England is aware that noise is an important issue for residents living next to the M25 motorway between junctions 10 and 11, and is actively looking for ways to improve the situation.

Work to repair failed joints in the concrete carriageways was completed in November 2019 and this should help to reduce the noise level.

There are currently no plans to resurface the carriageways on this section of the M25, but there is a trial to test materials and techniques which could help to reduce noise and improve the performance of concrete surfaces which is currently being carried out on the M1. The trial includes measurement of the noise reduction achieved and the rate of deterioration of the different treatments and is anticipated to continue until 2022. The results of this trial will help Highways England to decide how to manage concrete surfaces on its roads in the future, including this section of the M25.”

It is hugely disappointing to me that the Government and Highways England seem to have set their face against an acceptable resolution of this matter within the next year or so. I hope that the arguments set out in the petition and put forward by me and my colleagues in this debate can lead to the urgent work that I believe is required. After all, we have been waiting since the millennium for an initial Government promise on this matter to be fulfilled, and the long-suffering residents of the areas most affected have had to put up with this noise since the opening of the M25 in 1986.

If urgent action does not prove possible, I would like a firm undertaking from the Minister that this issue will be fully sorted out within 12 months of the results of those tests on the concrete surfaces of the M1 being completed. That is a reasonable request to make on behalf of those residents whose quality of life has been blighted for the past 34 years.