CAMPAIGNING AGAINST NOISE

Val Weedon MBE
Founder of NOISE NETWORK
Secretary for UNITED KINGDOM NOISE ASSOCIATION

Abstract/summary of speech originally presented at NOPHER CONFERENCE 2001
6-8 April 2001 Robinson College, Cambridge, UK

 

It is now nearly ten years since I started campaigning. Having personal experience with a noise problem and the anecdotal evidence gathered during that time has given me a unique insight into the poor quality lives that many noise sufferers have endured. These are the "walking wounded" of modern society, failed by current systems for control and crippled by sensitisation to noise. Citizens have been betrayed and denied the real truth.

The World Health Organisation, regarded as the global authority on noise and health issues, states that "Protective standards are essentially derived from observations on the health effects of noise on "normal" or "average populations". They go on to point out that "The issue of vulnerable subgroups in the general population should thus be considered when developing regulations or recommendations for the management of community noise" With the introduction of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 our present laws controlling noise are now incompatible.

Governments have failed to acknowledge recognition between noise and health. Planning Law no longer functions as the front line defence against the growth of noise. Environmental Law using the archaic nuisance law is outdated.

Humanity cannot continue to soak up noise. Noise problems need to be dealt with swiftly to prevent long term sensitivities and conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Noise Network and its partner The United Kingdom Noise Association have both recently produced Noise Manifestos, which set out their concerns and offer solutions for change.

Campaigning, I feel, forms a crucial part of the debate.

 

20 February 2001

 

ENDS

 

This is my 10th year campaigning against noise. It was following a domestic noise problem that led me to campaign on all noise issues. In those ten years I have made contact with thousands of other noise sufferers, not only in the UK, but all around the world. There is now an international movement campaigning against noise.
When I first started campaigning, noise complaints had been escalating. The Batho Report of 1990 (Report of the Noise Review Working Party 1990) stated that:

"Complaints received by Local Authorities increased threefold in ten years from 1978 to 1988." Complaints continued to rise. The National Society for Clean Air declared last year that the "UK Noise Climate is Getting Worse".

Having personal experience and the anecdotal evidence gathered during the last ten years has given me a unique insight into the poor quality lives that many noise sufferers endure.
In a survey carried out when I first started campaigning, 85% of respondents said that their health had been affected, with most of these health problems relating to stress.
I am presently carrying out another survey and early indications are that this figure may be exceeded.

These people are the "walking wounded" of modern society, failed by current systems for control and crippled by sensitisation to noise. Citizens have been betrayed and denied the real truth.
The World Health Organisation, regarded as the global authority on noise and health issues, in their document "Community Noise" published in 1995 states that: "if past guidelines would have been followed, or could be followed, people would hardly have a problem with most community noises."

We have all been seeking the key to unlock the answer to the "noise and health" connection. Although many studies have not been conclusive in their findings, there are strong links between noise and stress. Numerous sources over the last 30 years have stated that noise is a major environmental stressor.
In a recent study the stress link to illness has been proved, it claims the link is now undeniable. Professor Evans from the University of Westminster stated that "These are situations when people find themselves facing events they canít control and are overwhelmed." These are not the situations where people have just had a bad day at the office.

Most of the people that make contact with the campaign do so, when they have followed every possible avenue open to them to find a remedy to their noise problem. Many of them are at the point of suicide. They have exceeded their coping capacity and gone beyond the point of mere annoyance.

In 1994 the Right to Peace and Quiet Campaign held a press conference at the House of Commons in London, to highlight a number of deaths that had occurred in noise related issues. Many of these people had committed suicide. Some months after this event I was speaking to a senior professional who commented that, reading these stories of suicides, there were indications that some of these people were suffering mental disorders.
My response was "Yes, these were the vulnerable ones, but it was noise that tipped the balance and plunged them into despair."

The World Health Organisation states that "Protective standards are essentially derived from observations on the health effects of noise on "normal" or "average" populations". They go on to point out that "The issue of vulnerable subgroups in the general populations should thus be considered when developing regulations or recommendations for the management of community noise".

In the UK noise control and enforcement is in the hands of Local Authorities. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is linked to an archaic UK concept of common law nuisance and gives officers complete discretionary powers to decide what, if anything, is actionable in law. These discretionary powers alongside the introduction of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 renders our present laws controlling noise incompatible.

Successive governments have failed to acknowledge recognition between noise and health. Planning Law no longer functions as the front line defence against the growth of noise. Environmental Law using the archaic nuisance law is outdated.
Humanity cannot continue to soak up noise. Noise problems need to be dealt with swiftly to prevent long term sensitivities and conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I understand that the common target times Local Authorities set to investigate noise complaints is 24-72 hours and we know that the quality of service that people get is still a postcode lottery.

Noise Network and its partner the United Kingdom Noise Association have both recently produced Noise Manifestos, which set out their concerns and offer solutions for change.
We support the World Health Organisation recommendations for FIXED STANDARDS and we need to depart from the discretionary, biased and discriminatory controls that are in place at present. We also support the precautionary, polluter pays and prevention principles.

We condemn the use of "A" weighting for low frequency problems and support the more preferred "C"weighting for these cases.

Campaigners form a crucial part of the debate. We are aware that we may not be popular with those we are critical of. It is the feeling of campaigners that economic/self serving interest has dominated noise control. We are concerned that these people may get into positions of power to preserve and protect their economic interest.
Conflict of interest is another major concern to campaigners. Local Authorities, for example, wear a number of hats. They have the duty to control noise, but they are also the authority to dish out licences and grant planning permission for activities that may not necessarily be in the interest of local residents. Particularly for major leisure activities that often attract people from outside an area.
Campaigners are concerned that some studies carried out, may be biased in their findings because they are financed by those that have a direct economic interest.

At this point, let me dispel a few myths about campaigners. We are not anarchists, we are not trying to prevent business, commerce or leisure activities from operating, we are not seeking total silence, we just want a choice for peace and quiet.
Noise, as a consideration, is featuring more in peopleís lives. According to research carried out on behalf of Alliance & Leicester in November 2000
"One in four people say that noisy neighbours is the factor that would most put them off buying a new house."
Factors other than the actual appearance of a house will become a growing feature. People are already becoming more alert to noisy activities, such as being near an airport or a busy road. We are aware that there are some people that may say they donít mind it. "You get used to it" theyíll say.
But habituation to such situations has now been disputed.
These people have the right to be alerted to the fact that by living in a noisy area their health may be at risk.

But what about those that donít have those choices? Do we just ignore their needs and tell them to get used to it, or to be more tolerant, or maybe we should put them on tranquillisers or Prozac.
My role as a campaigner is to try to ensure that these people get a better deal.
To see that, as the consumers of noise, their needs are met just as much as those who produce the noise. It is my feeling that some citizens have been permanently affected by noise and we need to make special provision to prevent any further deterioration in their health.
This may be in the form of special housing and siting of such developments in quiet locations. Although I am also keen to prevent the development of noise ghettos and I believe everyone should have equal access to peace and quiet.
Itís not just vulnerable people that need consideration, itís in everyoneís interest that we look for a solution. After all our health and quality of life depends on it.

 

When I started campaigning ten years ago I didnít think that I would still be here all this time later, but my greatest despair is to find out that campaigners have been trying to highlight this issue well over 40 years.
The grandfather of campaigning, John Connell, founded the Noise Abatement Society in 1959. Sadly, John died in 1999. In an interview with his local paper in 1988, he said "Noise destroys amenity, it saps energy, causes stress, mental and physical illness, clots the blood, reduces efficiency and creates hatred." He said that 13 years ago.

It endorses most of the things campaigners have been saying for many years.

They state quite clearly that we donít need to wait for the scientific proof. We know that noise affects health, so letís do something about it.

ENDS

 

Contact the author:

Val Weedon MBE
PO BOX 327, Chatham, Kent ME5 8AW
Tel: 07887 940004
E-mail: phil.val@btinternet.com

 

 

TABLE OF AUTHORITIES

(Bibliography)

 

1) World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines for Community Noise 1993-1995 & 2000.

2) The Committee on the Problem of Noise (Wilson Committee) Final Report: cmnd 2056 HMSO 1963.

3) Report of the UK government Department of the Environment Transport and Regions (DETR) Noise Review Working Party (Batho Report) HMSO 1990.

4) This Common Inheritance: UK Government Environment Policy White Paper (DETR HMSO 1990).

5) EU 5th Action Programme on the Environment 1993 & Draft Directive For the Control and Reduction of Noise in Member States 2000.

6) British Standards (various) as revised including BS 4142 & BS7445 1991.

7) UK Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended).

8) UK Town Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPG) including PPG12 Development Plans and Regional Planning Policy, PPG18 Enforcing Planning Control and PPG24 Planning and Noise.

9) The UK Building Regulations Department of the Environment Approved Document E as amended (under review).

10) The Calculation of Road Traffic Noise (CRTN) Department of Transport/HMSO Publications 1988.

11) Control of Pollution Act 1974 (residue of)

12) UK Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended by the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993.

13) Environment Act 1995 (Integrated Pollution Prevention & Control).

14) UK Noise Act 1996 (under review 2000).

15) Body of UK Judge made common law (case law) see also Hallsbury's Laws of England arising from noise amounting to a nuisance - not by fixed level standards as recommended by WHO. UK case law cited:- Tetley Vs Chitty: 1 All ER (1986) 663 - Baxter Vs Camden & Mills Vs Southwark (London Borough Councils) Env LR 112 - Murdoch Vs Glacier Metal Co Ltd (1998) Env LR 732 - Tapp & Britton Vs Thanet District Council & Wiggins plc (Manston Airport) CA 20 March 2001 unreported.

16) Road Transport and Health: (Board of Science British Medical Association 1997)

17) Transport & Pollution - The Health Costs (Published by the British Lung Foundation 1998)

18) The Prevention of Suicide:- UK Department of Health (HMSO)

19) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders (DSM) as revised published by the American Psychiatric Association, Axis 4 Psychosocial and Environmental Problems.

20) The Stress of life/General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) Hans Seyle: McGraw-Hill (1956).

21) Generalised Expectancies for Internal versus External Control of Reinforcement (Perceived Locus of Control) Rotter J (1966) Psychological Monographs 80, No 601.

22) Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control: Peterson, Maier, Seligman: Oxford University Press 1993. (*vital reading)

23) Noise & Health: Edited by Thomas Fay PhD: The New York Academy of Medicine (1991).

24) Measuring Stress: Cohen, Kessler & Gordon (Oxford University Press 1997)

25) Stress, Cognition and Health - Cassidy - Routledge 1999.

26) Environmental Psychology - Cassidy - Psychology Press 1997

27) Stress and Emotion - A New Synthesis - Richard S Lazarus - Free Association Books 1999.

28) Anxiety - S Rachman - Psycholgy Press 1998

29) Principals of Biopsychology - Green - Psychology Press - 1994

30) An Introduction to the Psychology of Hearing: Brian CJ Moore: Academic Press 1995.

31) More Than bricks and Mortar? Mental Health & The Built Environment: Halpern: Taylor & Francis 1995.

32) Environmental Psychology: Bell, Baum, (1996) Green: Harcourt Brace College Publishers USA.

33) The Sickening Mind: Brain, Behaviour, Immunity & Disease: Dr Paul Martin (Harper & Collins 1997)

34) The Emotional Brain: J LeDoux (Weidenfield & Nicolson 1998)

35) Perception: R Sekuler & R Blake: Third Edition (Mcgraw-Hill 1994)

36) Mind, Brain and the Environment: Brian Cartledge (Oxford University Press 1998)

37) Measuring Health: A Review of Quality of Life Measurement Scales: Ann Bowling (Open University Press 1991)

38) Health & Lifestyles. Mildred Blaxter. (Routledge 1990)

39) Sciences Basic to Psychiatry - Basant K.Pury and Peter J.Tyrer

40) Pollution, the Professionals and the Public (Open University Press 1977)

41) Sensation and Perception - Gregory & Colman - Routledge 1995.

42) Emotion and Motivation - Parkinson and Colman - Routledge 1997

43) Malignant Sadness - Woolpert - Faber & Faber 1999

44) The Suicidal Mind - Schneidman - Oxford University Press 1996

45) Neuropsychology - Banich - Houghton Mifflin Co 1997

46) Clay's Handbook of Environmental Health: Edited by WH Bassett: Sixteenth edition 1992: Chapman & Hall Medical.

Numerous other reference works consulted

ACOUSTICS AND ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REFERENCES - VARIOUS INCLUDING

47) Acoustics in the Built Environment: Templeman; Butterworth Architecture 1993).

48) Noise Control: CN Penn (former General Manager {Operations and Strategy) Environmental Health & Consumer Services Department Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council: Shaw & Sons: 2nd edition 1995.

49) Noise Control in the Built Environment: Edited by Roberts/Fairhall: Gower Technical (not dated)

50) Woods Practical Guide to Noise Control: Sharland: (Woods of Colchester)

51) Proc of the Journal/Institute of Acoustics (IOA): Various Academic Papers.

52) Acoustics and Noise Control - Smith, Peters and Owen Person Education Ltd 2000

53) Environmental Law - Thornton & Beckwith - Sweet & Maxwell 1997)

54) Environmental Law - Leeson - Pitman Publishing 1995

55) Environmental Law - Bell & McGilvery Blackstone Press 2000

56) Obedience to Authority: S Milgram (Pinter & Martin 1997)

57) The Reasonable Arm Of The Law? - The Law Enforcement Procedures of (UK) Environmental Health Officers: Dr Briget M Hutter (Clarendon Press Oxford 1988).