“That this government would initiate a comprehensive review of national environmental noise legislation, including Regulation SI 140/2006 (Environmental Noise Regulations) and the Roads Act 1993, with a view to:
- Setting statutory limit values for excessive environmental noise levels based on recommendations from the World Health Organisation for the protection of human health
- Identifying a regulatory assessment method for environmental noise
- Establishing consistency between noise mapping bodies and action planning authorities
- Allowing for the effect of low frequency noise
- Including for noise control from ports
- Setting out a methodology for identifying “quiet areas” as required by Directive 2002/49/EC (Environmental Noise Directive)”
My introduction to the motion:
Environmental noise is noise that comes from all sources except that from the industrial workplace. So it includes road, rail and air traffic, industrial sites, construction and some other outdoor activities.
Noise is a really complicated issue. It is complicated because it is always there. It is complicated too much noise is pollution but the level of noise and the type of noise that is tolerable is a subjective thing. To make it even more complicated, it is measured in many different ways and always on a logarithmic scale.
Noise is very much the Cinderella of pollution. We talk about air pollution, pollution by litter, water pollution and much more. But how often do we talk about noise pollution? Yet it is one of the most frequent sources of environmental complaint. What we do know about noise is that according to the WHO, it is the second largest environmental cause of health problems. There is a confirmed causal relationship between chronic environmental noise and a wide variety of adverse health effects including sleep disturbance, annoyance, cardiovascular disease, endocrine effects, increase incidence of diabetes, performance and learning, mental health and stress.
Noise pollution in Ireland is managed under ten different pieces of legislation, all which do slightly different things. But despite this, we have no legal ambient noise limits. The WHO is absolutely clear that to protect the public, an average night-time exposure to noise should not exceed 40 dB(A). To avoid excessive annoyance to the public, it recommends day time noise levels should be no higher than 55 dB(A). Yet many Irish people are consistently exposed to noise levels much higher than this. In the absence of legal limits, TII produced a set of guidelines with a noise limit value target in the design of new national roads in Ireland of 60 dB Lden. But this is not a mandatory requirement, it applies to national roads only and missing the target is excused if it is not “sustainable”. In this context, sustainable often means if it is too difficult or too expensive.
Our Environmental Noise Regulations require relevant authorities to produce Noise Maps and Noise Action Plans every five years. The purpose of these is to identify and reduce exposure of the population to noise. The EPA has produced guidelines recommending intervention when ambient noise is higher than 70 dB(A) – much higher than the World Health Organisation recommendation. Moreover, in Ireland, noise mapping authorities are often different from noise action authorities. So on a national road, TII will produce the noise map, it will show where any public living alongside is dangerously exposed to noise and then the local authority is obliged to identify how to deal with that and fund it.
All that legislation governing noise doesn’t capture wind farms from which the low frequency noise can drive people from their homes. It doesn’t govern noise from ports although shipping-related activities can keep nearby communities awake for long periods of the night. And critically, because we have no noise limits, we are not merely excusing noise levels above those known to cause health problems, we are designing for noise levels above those known to cause health problems.
Europe has recommended that we designate “quiet areas”. These are special places, often in urban areas, which are precious to people and provide time out in a busy world. The aim of designating them is to protect them from excessive levels of noise. The only place in Ireland where quiet areas have been designated are in Dublin. The current Noise Action Plan for Cork commits to identifying quiet areas during the lifetime of the plan but the plan expires this year and those quiet areas haven’t been identified yet. Research has been done to identify how best to identify areas that should be designated as quiet but that research hasn’t been incorporated into national legislation.
Last year it was estimated that 250,000 people throughout Ireland were living with a level of environmental noise that was causing them annoyance. 100,000 people were living with a level of environmental noise that was causing them sleep disturbance. For the vast majority of these people, that noise was caused by road traffic.
Studies done by the European Commission have shown that measures to directly address noise pollution have a high initial cost and it takes a long time to recover the financial investment. But if a monetary value is put on the resulting societal benefit, those studies have also shown that that investment is highly efficient.
The legislative deficiencies I have spoken of here are merely the tip of the iceberg. We urgently need to address our environmental noise legislation so that it works, so that it provides comfort to those suffering from noise pollution and genuine protection to the health of Irish citizens.
The executive’s report responding to the motion:
Response to D’Alton’s motion on environmental noise
Discussion in Chamber:
Motion is seconded by Cllr Desmond (FF). The M28 was a real eye opener in respect of noise. There is no humane approach to this at all. People who can no longer use their back gardens. Who can no longer open their windows for fresh air. Goalposts are changeable and so people had no cause to redress or satisfaction. One woman at an M28 public display – nothing to do with the proposals – broke down in hysterics from the frustration for 10 years and longer in dealing with noise. Commends the motion.
Cllr Barry (FG): Supports. Being on the Environment SPC the issue of noise pollution has come up with regularity. Ambient noise has a huge effect on people’s lives. Traffic is one of the single biggest causes of it. N25 outside Carrigtwohill and Glanmire – trees have been taken away and no decent barrier has been put in place. People cannot stand outside their door and speak to others. It is accepted that noise is excessive. You do your sound levels and resolving it goes from TII to the Council. The funding isn’t there. People shouldn’t live with that interference in their lives.
Cllr K Murphy (FG): We have to accept that noise levels are serious at the moment and probably getting worse. Motion is excellent. Developments close to regional roads can be seriously noisy. Has an issue with the condition of some of the roads. Noise difference between smooth tarmac surface and chip surface is enormous. Knows that machinery before now was noisier. No such thing as joined up thinking between our planning and the impact that noise could have on a development. Need to create an environment that improves the situation: growing massive trees isn’t the answer. Stayed in a house where the noise level from a national route next door was intolerable. Couldn’t sleep. Double glazing, well back from the road and the noise was still awful. In our planning for the future we have to adopt some other mechanism of ensuring that noise is detrimental to health. It has been detrimental in the past. There is an opportunity in the National Planning Framework.
Cllr Murphy (SF): Supports. As regards industrial noise, lived across from Marino Point for years so agrees with that.
Cllr Forde: Worthy motion and well overdue. Would like to ask each and every one of the people in this room how would you like to live next to a motorway which has a continuous loud noise which drives you crazy? How about living next to a house which has two rottweilers barking way into the night? How about cutting all the trees which makes noise pollution worse? The Eouglas LUTS has identified that noise from traffic in the Douglas village area has exceeded guidelines and limits. Would like to see a specific responsibility in Council for addressing noise. Noise on Douglas with thousands of cars has to have an effect on people. When we give out plannings, we are not strict enough on the effects of noise on houses. Planning issue in Togher where residents couldn’t speak with the noise of refrigerated trucks. It was protracted but the Council took it on. Also had a church where the congretation was singing and neighbours complained. The Council tasked the church to put in new sound barriers and they were then kicked out by their landlord. Need cohesive joined up thinking.
Cllr McCarthy (SF): Well-ordered motion. Resonates with all of us from local issues to much bigger industrial issues. Introducing limit values would be very worthy. Lives in an estate not far from a co-op and during harvest time it is very difficult to sleep. We don’t complain because we know it is only for a defined period but at the same time it is not fair on neighbours who have young children. Where we’re looking at building roads and we’re talking about bypasses for towns, etc. residents living in housing estates that are close to bypasses are concerned.
Deputy CE: Our response says we’re in favour of a revision of the noise legislation. In the event that local authorities get more workload it needs to be matched with resources. This is a very specialised area. We have had very limited resources in this area. We do apply noise limits to all industrial type planning permissions which we grant.
Cllr D’Alton to sum up: Thank contributors sincerely for supporting because this is a genuinely complicated issue. It took 2 hours just to draft the wording of the motion in such a way as was understandable and captured all the recommendations of the relevant experts in the field. Has taken me years to even 50% understand this issue. Thanks the Environment Department for an excellent report which shows that they have a real handle on the issue and understand that a review of the legislation is long overdue. Understands that noise limits are attached to industrial-type planning applications. Industries that are licensed by the EPA are also limited in the noise they can emit but this is not environmental noise in the context of the motion. Agree that additional resources should come to local authorities if responsibilities are assigned to them under revised legislation. One of the reasons the legislation we have isn’t being implemented is because it already assigns responsibilities to local authorities which they have no resources to carry out. Very relieved that we will write to the Minister requesting this long overdue review of environmental noise legislation.