Noise map measures sound of the suburbs

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The Independent Online

The world's biggest traffic noise map was published by the Government yesterday, giving property buyers a chance to see how noisy their prospective neighbourhoods will be.

The world's biggest traffic noise map was published by the Government yesterday, giving property buyers a chance to see how noisy their prospective neighbourhoods will be.

The website noisemapping.org tells Londoners if their street has the permanent sound equivalent of a vacuum cleaner, mixer, dishwasher or alarm clock. Over the next 12 months, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs intends to expand the site to show the decibel level of streets throughout England.

Colours on the map show the decibel level on various sections of road. A reading of 20 decibels is equivalent to the sound of rustling leaves, the department explains, the typical high readings of 70 to 80 decibels are like that of a vacuum cleaner, noisy restaurant or alarm clock. People visiting the site can enter a postcode to get a reading for that area.

Government scientists obtained the information by using roadside emissions data from 2001. "The map covers the greatest ground area of any [such] map produced so far in the world," a Defra spokeswoman said. "It doesn't take into account air traffic noise or other noise, it's just measuring road traffic noise.

"They've just been able to focus on one particular type of noise because it takes a lot of time to put together."

The spokeswoman said she imagined the map would be keenly followed by property-obsessed Londoners although that was not its intention.

"Birmingham did a noise map in 1999 and one of the issues was whether it would deter people from buying in noisy areas," she said.

"But people move to areas for all sorts of reasons. They might trade off living in a loud area against other benefits such as good transport links or access to schools."

The map is part of the Government's national ambient noise strategy, due to be completed in 2007. Defra says it will assess noise levels all around the country and use the data to implement measures to improve quality of life, including working with local government to erect noise barriers or pave roads with porous asphalt, which reduces sound.

In London, the mapping has found that the noisiest boroughs are, predictably, the City of London (with 43 per cent of its area with levels above 60 decibels), and Westminster (34 per cent), followed by Hounslow, which is near the M4 and Heathrow (25 per cent) and Kensington/Chelsea (24 per cent). The further from the centre, the quieter, with Sutton, Bromley, Croydon, Harrow and Richmond rating best.

The noise on Downing Street, set back from busy Whitehall, comes in at 55 decibels - just under the noise of a normal conversation. Buckingham Palace is less protected, with Buckingham Palace Road measuring 80 decibels (alarm clock levels).

The Environment minister, Lord Whitty, said: "Noise is a universal problem which has affected most of us at some time in our lives. It can have a serious impact on our quality of life, which is why tackling noise is a priority for the Government.

"The London Road Traffic Noise Map is the first big step in our project to map the whole of England, which will help us to see where we need to take measures to reduce noise and to target problem areas."

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