Tuesday, 19 May 2009

"A stench in the ear?"

I bought an interesting book in the "Beware the leopard" bookshop in Bristol on the weekend called "The Assaults on Our Senses" by John Barr. Published in 1970 it documents the range of urban blights, most of which are still prevalent in our cities. Of particular note is the section on "Noise on the ground". Barr places a lot of emphasis on workplace noise, which has to some extent been tackled by health and safety legislation and specific acts to control industrial noise. He quotes Schopenhauer who said that noise was "an insolent defiance by those who work with their hands of those who work with their brains"(!). Schopenhauer recommended public whipping for carters who needlessly cracked their whips!
On the subject of road traffic noise he cites an interesting timeline, beginning in a 1934 Ministry of Transport committee set up to measure and characterise noise. However progress on tackling noise stalled and it wasn't until the early sixties that the Wilson committee urged strict limits on vehicle noise. In 1968 the UK introduced roadside vehicle noise checks but these were strongly opposed by the police, who felt that traffic noise was not their primary concern.
The results of the Social Survey quoted in Barr's book reveal that 36% of londoners were annoyed by traffic noise while at home - this tallies well with the data from the EPUK Survey published yesterday which shows annoyance by 28% of respondents (from the UK as a whole). So it seems that the situation has not really improved since the publication of this book in 1970. Let's hope that DEFRA's action plans result in a real and sustained reduction in traffic noise in our towns and cities.

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