Bedrooms on the hard shoulder of a motorway: welcome to the homes from hell

Families take historic stand against council for withdrawing protection against noise pollution
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The Independent Online
When five-year-old Blue Rendell looks out of the bedroom window, she could be sitting on the hard shoulder of a motorway.

The juggernaut that thunders past, barely 10ft away, is one of 86,000 vehicles that cross Canning Town flyover each day, subjecting the Rendell family to a constant din equivalent to the sound of a pneumatic drill operating outside the house.

The local council's idea of giving the Rendells and other families in the poor east Londonneighbourhood a little respite was to rip out their protective windows. Yesterday, in a historic action, 16 Canning Town families, all local authority tenants, served summonses on the London Borough of Newham, seeking damages for noise nuisance and breach of contract.

The case is remarkable in that council environmental health officers are meant to police noise pollution. Yet they cannot prosecute their own bosses.

So, the families have brought their own county court action. Solicitor Claire Hodgson, of Leigh Day in London, said: "It's astonishing the council can take away such essential noise protection and not consider the consequences. My clients' lives have been very seriously affected. We will be pressing for fast and effective action from Newham and damages for the harm they have caused."

The families say they feel that they are living "sat on a pavement". Freight lorries go past throughout the night.

The windows of the Rendells' front bedroom have been smashed by stones thrown up bypassing traffic. Hub caps have landed in the garden, along with a section of central reservation.

Blue's mother, Jackie, 34, said: "My children live closest to school, but have the worst attendance records, because they are woken up every few minutes."

The neighbourhood was quiet when the houses went up in 1972. A year later the fly-over was built, opening a gateway from the City to the Essex coast. The Highways Agencyagreed to fit houses in and around Lawrence Street, adjacent to the flyover, with protective windows. They came with air vents which meant they did not have to be opened.

Twenty years later, Newham council stepped in. The old protective windows were pulled out and a form of secondary glazing substituted. The tenants have obtained evidence which shows that while the old windows met with noise regulations, their replacements did not. Noise levels of 60 decibels inside the houses are now more than double the level they were before the council took action.

The new windows were so poorly fitted that some tenants could put a hand through a gap between the glass and the frame. Rain poured in.

A council spokesman said the matter had been discussed by the authority's housing committee. He would not discuss the legal action in advance of the council preparing its defence.