Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Question 220-239)

Mrs Charles George and Miss Joanna Clayton

Thursday 30 January 2003

220. MR CUNNINGHAM: The operators will predetermine what that package will contain? That is what I am asking.

221. MR GEORGE: The package is determined by the Regulations. At present, there are Highways Noise Insulation Regulations, which have a schedule which sets out the package, and therefore as any new road is constructed, that is the package contained in the Regulations. What our Bill says is that, so near as possibly, we will apply the Noise Insulation Regulations. So it is a package. It is not a question of designing a particular package. There is a standard package. It is actually quite a simple matter of putting in a standard type of acoustic glazing of a particular sort and the associated ventilation facility, and that will be available to those who qualify.

222. CHAIRMAN: I suspect, Mr George, that this will be the least controversial of the four purposes of the Bill.

223. For clarification, although I think you have answered the question, under Schedule 2, 109A, section 2(a) there is a reference to residential properties"in the vicinity of the approaches" in lines 24-25. I was going to ask you for a definition of "vicinity of the approaches" because that would be pretty material, but I think the answer is that it is any property that has a sound level above 68 dBa. That would seem to me to be a very appropriate way to define it. Is that so?

224. MR GEORGE: Not quite, because there will be lots of property in Liverpool with a noise of over 68; it has to be of a noise over 68 which is contributed to by at least 1 dBa by the noise from the traffic on the road.

225. CHAIRMAN: The road will pass by many houses. Which of the householders will benefit from this package, and where are you going to draw the line? You have just mentioned, thirty minutes ago, the difficulty of drawing lines.

226. MR GEORGE: We have done our best on this plan. We do not believe that there will be anyone who does not live - we think they will all be living on the roads shown in yellow on exhibit A5. What I said earlier is that there will be some residences on those yellow roads that will not qualify. That is our starting point. When you go out and start measuring the individual houses, some of the houses in that road will fall out because they will not have the necessary noise increase: either their overall noise level will be less than 68 or it will not be contributed by 1 dBa by noise coming from the road.

227. CHAIRMAN: Do you think that the Bill could be improved by being more definitive on precisely which houses are in and which are not?

228. MR GEORGE: The answer to that is "no" because I do not believe that, without a considerable amount of research at this stage, one could identify the list. I think there would then be anomalies because one would find that some people had been wrongly left out, and one would find that some people were encouraged, because they were on the list, but then it would turn out when they were tested that they did not qualify. I think that that would give rise to problems.

229. In the case of a highway scheme, that does not happen. One simply has a basic right, provided you can show that you are a house that will be over 68, with 1dBa caused by the road, and you have an entitlement. You do not ever have a list of properties attached to the highways order under which the road is being built.

230. The idea of having a schedule is, so to speak, nice, clear-minded thinking, but in reality it is not what is applied in other instances, and we do not believe it would be appropriate here.

231. CHAIRMAN: I understand that, but it is just that the expression "in the vicinity of the approaches" strikes me as being rather open.

232. MR JENKINS: Normally, when they put the road down, they create a footprint of noise around that road, and anything that falls within that is eligible for the insulation. I am glad that we have A5 here because at the bottom right-hand side there is a photograph of the sunken road. On the side it is bare concrete. It is probably corrugated to deflect noise, but in no way does it stop the noise being attenuated from that lorry, off the wall, and back up to the houses. If they did a noise-reduction programme and covered those walls in noise-reduction material, it would drop road traffic noise dramatically, especially if noise-deadening tarmac was used. There are programmes like that for reducing noise in the locality rather than trying to encase a house in noise absorbing material so that people are all right when they are in the house but do not open the window. That is the way forward, I think. Unfortunately, lorries have got a lot heavier and they are a lot noisier, especially when they put they foot down to go up a slope. That generates a lot more vibration and will affect people more.

233. CHAIRMAN: Mr George, you are not an engineer, so I will not ask you to approach that, but can I press you further on the question of "in the vicinity of"? The yellow lines that are drawn on A5 show which roads would be considered appropriate for this work. How were those yellow lines arrived at? Was it a distance from the tunnel or its entrances?

234. MR GEORGE: I think it is on a preliminary noise measurement. The matter is going to be self-defining. As I say, it is a question of working out who is over a noise level and who is receiving noise from the approaches. There is a definition of the approaches in the 1980 Act, and that is defined. That does not much help you, sir, because that does not get you over your problem of "vicinity". The approaches are defined. What is in the vicinity is simply shorthand for saying it is within an area qualified under the application of the regulations.

235. CHAIRMAN: It sounds to me like a lawyers' goldmine, but let us proceed.

236. MR GEORGE: I think that the people who are going to benefit are these poor residents, and the most important thing is, if this Bill is enacted, that there be adequate notification to residents and an adequate procedure for people to have their houses measured and tested so that they can qualify.

237. CHAIRMAN: We all accept that the residents have not got that at the moment. It is giving them something that they have not currently got. We accept that. This will not be controversial. We just want to make sure that we make it as sound as possible.

238. MR GEORGE: There is only one other matter. I should refer the Committee to the officers' report from the Wirral, which the Committee will find at A18, page 32. The officers refer to this as being a longstanding problem. The officers are writing in the context of the Bill. Paragraph 3.1(vi) states: "Members of the Council will be aware of the longstanding problem." This is a question where people have plainly been complaining, and so far they have been fobbed off of course; they have been told perfectly correctly, "you might have a problem" but no-one has any legal power to do anything about it. We are now taking the legal power to do something about it. It sounds, from what the Chairman was telling me, that the sooner I move on to another matter, the better!

239. CHAIRMAN: Not at all; you must judge the pace for yourself, Mr George.

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