Minister says noise curbs are too costly

A Brussels plan to curb noise pollution from road, rail and industry could cost billions of pounds, the Government has warned MPs.

Opposing the consultative proposal, the Environment minister James Clappison has told the Commons European Legislation Committee: "Action on noise exposure is an issue of strictly local concern."

The commission has suggested "noise-mapping" of the European Union, pin- pointing problem areas, and setting targets for reducing the nuisance through the noise-testing of vehicles; curbs on tyre-road noise; the possibility of deterrent rail track charges; and punitive airport taxes for noisy aircraft.

In reply, Mr Clappison said that target noise proposals contained in a 1994 report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution would have cost up to pounds 5bn, and the cost of additional measures for industry "could also run into billions".

He told the Commons committee: "The Government acknowledges that problems of excessive noise from domestic, industrial and commercial premises and from most modes of transport exist in varying degrees in most member states.

"However, significant cultural, political and lifestyle differences amongst member states underline the need to deal with these problems at national or local level, as appropriate."

The minister also warned that the proposal for noise-mapping, and Europe- wide harmonisation of the exposure to noise, along with target curbs, opened up "a new field of community activity which traditionally and rightly has been the exclusive concern of national, regional and local authorities".

Addressing each of the proposals in turn, Mr Clappison said wholesale noise-mapping was "likely to be very costly and, by itself, seems unlikely to produce environmental benefits and most likely to raise expectations which cannot be fulfilled".

As for noise targets and standards, he said: "Some exist already in the UK, including thresholds for compensation for increased noise resulting from new roads and railways, noise limits and night restrictions at airports and recommended levels of noise exposure for new residential development near the major sources of noise."

The Government was concerned that variable rail track charges could make the railways less attractive than road transport, and it said there was "considerable concern" that the cost of curbs on noisy industrial machinery had to be justified by environmental benefit. "The specific proposals on transport noise will have significant cost implications for vehicle manufacturers and railways companies," the minister said.

Under present British law, complaints about excessive noise can be investigated and abatement action can be taken by local authorities in England and Wales, and by the police in Scotland, who also have powers to seize noisy equipment.

Results of the consultation on the Brussels package are to be considered by ministers next June. Because eventual decisions will be taken by qualified majority vote, one government cannot use a blocking veto.

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