A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms 2018 findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that noise pollution in our towns and cities is increasing, with excessive noise posing a health risk by adversely affecting sleep and cardiovascular and metabolic function.
The WHO's 2018 Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region provided recommendations for protecting human health from exposure to environmental noise originating from various sources such as transportation, whether it is road traffic, railway or aircraft, as well as wind turbine noise and leisure.
The EPA is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the environmental noise regulations, the European Communities (Environmental Noise) Regulations 2018 (S.I. No. 549), with supervisory, advisory and coordination functions in relation to noise mapping and action planning. Member States are required to prepare and publish strategic noise maps and noise management action plans every 5 years, with the ultimate goal to avoid, prevent or reduce the harmful effects of environmental noise.
Findings: Ireland’s Environment – An Integrated Assessment 2020
Based on its latest evaluation of Ireland's environment, the EPA reports that noise pollution complaints from the Irish public have been increasing and the control measures currently in place do not allow those concerns to be adequately addressed. The EPA has stated that local authorities need to take on a stronger leadership role in tackling noise, particularly when it comes to urban areas.
Transport is a common thread in driving noise pollution. A 2019 study found that night-time exposure to high levels of road traffic noise affects more than 78 million people across Europe, while Dublin Airport Authority logged 1,453 noise complaints in 2018 – although Covid-19's impact on airport activities is likely to result in a corresponding reduction in noise pollution.
Strategic Noise Maps
Responsibility for the preparation "strategic noise maps" lies with designated Noise Mapping Bodies which include:
- Transport Infrastructure Ireland, responsible for National roads & the Luas;
- Local Authorities responsible for non-national roads;
- Irish Rail;
- Dublin Airport Authority; and
- Dublin City Council, Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, & South Dublin County Councils (Dublin agglomeration) as well as Cork City and Cork County Councils (Cork agglomeration).
Strategic noise maps illustrate noise exposure levels, and are prepared using computer modelling techniques that include various types of source data to estimate noise levels including traffic flow, types of road and rail, types of vehicles and vehicle speeds.
Noise Planning Guidance
The EPA have stated that National noise planning guidance is needed for local authorities, which will support and promote the proactive management of noise. Having this kind of guidance in place will assist Ireland in achieving its noise objectives as set out in Project Ireland – National Planning Framework 2040, the overarching policy and planning framework for social, economic and cultural developments in Ireland. The EPA suggests that the 2018 WHO Guidelines be adopted, and that the integration of air and noise pollution mitigation measures, particularly in the area of transport management, be a key focus for Ireland.
The designation of quiet areas in cities is something the EPA supports, noting that Dublin City Council has identified eight “quiet areas", with the aim of using its noise action plan as a tool to preserve tranquil areas with existing low levels of environmental noise and setting noise thresholds to help in the designation of the quiet areas. The designation is considered in relation to any proposed future development near these quiet locations to assess any negative impact such a development might have on existing noise levels.
The EPA also highlighted experimental works to reduce noise levels along 100-metre stretches of the Luas Green Line in Dublin, with the installation of “rail dampers” and absorbing rubber infill panels that achieved significant noise reductions, noting that such options should be used when considering acoustic mitigation measures for future Luas lines.
The EPA concludes that fully implemented action plans will improve Ireland’s environment, while the short-term focus needs to be on accelerating the implementation of these plans.
The full EPA report is available here.
World Health Organisation 2018 Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region are available here.
Information on Noise Mapping is available here.
Information on Project Ireland – National Planning Framework 2040 here.