Europe tries to ban noisy lawnmowers

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THE DAYS of the dawn chorus of garden equipment are numbered. The spring-time cacophony of lawn-edge trimmers and motorised garden hoes, with orchestration from pneumatic drills, concrete mixers, chain saws, leaf-blowers and wood-shredders is being tackled by Brussels.

But the initiative is being opposed by Britain as the Government digs in for a fight against elements of the tough new anti-noise laws proposed by the European Commission.

As the lead is being taken by the Department of Trade and Industry, rather than the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions - which "has an interest in the environmental aspects of noise" - the business aspects of the new directive appear to dominate the response. John Battle, the minister for science, energy and industry, says in a formal memorandum to Parliament: "The UK supports the main aims of the directive which are the removal of technical barriers to trade, the simplification of old noise directives and the improvement of the environment."

But he then protests about the unnecessary complications and particular expense of the measures for small and medium-size companies. "The UK believes the amount of environmental benefit to be gained from the measures is not proportionate to the burdens and costs that will be placed on industry."

Mr Battle reserves his strongest attack for the methods the Commission is proposing to use to measure the noise - something called ISO 4871 - the International Organisation for Standardisation noise test for machinery and equipment.

"The UK is strongly opposed to the use of ISO 4871," Mr Battle says. The test takes the manufacturers' guaranteed noise level and then builds in an automatic noise cushion of an additional 3 decibels - for "measurement uncertainty".

As described by Mr Battle , the ISO 4871 system is so complex that it reads like instructions for the assembly of a wood-shredder, poorly translated from Chinese, and the minister complains that the entire process will cost UK industry something in the region of pounds 278m over the eight-year life of the directive.

The DTI estimates that there are 250 companies affected, with 30,000 employees and combined sales of about pounds 4bn a year.

The directive will cover 55 types of equipment, including chain-saws, concrete-mixers, petrol-fuelled grass-strimmers, hedge-trimmers, leaf- blowers, road-sweepers, refuse collection vehicles, wood-shredders and chippers. Lawnmowers are already covered, but curbs are also proposed for nine additional items of equipment, including mobile cranes, dumper trucks, electric lawn-trimmers, and motorised garden hoes.