Environmental Noise

Environmental Noise in Europe

The European Union has estimated that around 20 percent of the EU’s population, or close on 80 million people, are subject to noise levels that scientists and health experts consider unacceptable. They are annoyed, their sleep is disturbed, and adverse health effects are expected. An additional 170 million people experience noise levels causing serious annoyance during daytime. With this background, there is clear need to manage environmental noise on a national and local scale.

One of the first steps in embarking on a programme of noise management is to quantify the current noise climate. This provides a solid basis for formulating environmental noise management policy. To ensure parity for this across the European Union the European Parliament and Council adopted Directive 2002/49/EC.

Directive 2002/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise (END)


Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise is often referred to as the Environmental Noise Directive. The END, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, on 25 June 2002, was to be transposed into law by the Member States of the EU by 18 July 2004.

Objetives of the END

The aim of the END is to define a common approach across the European Union with the intention of avoiding, preventing or reducing on a prioritised basis the harmful effects, including annoyance, due to exposure to environmental noise. This will involve:

informing the public about environmental noise and its effects;
the preparation of strategic noise maps for: large urban areas (referred to as ‘agglomerations’ in the END and in this document), major roads, major railways and major airports as defined in the END; and
preparing action plans based on the results of the noise mapping exercise. Such plans will aim to manage and reduce environmental noise where necessary, and preserve environmental noise quality where it is good.

A strategic noise map is a method of presenting complex information on sound levels and/or exposure in a clear and simple way either on a physical map or in a database. Action plans are plans which will contain a number of measures that will be taken to manage noise and reduce it where necessary.

The noise mapping and action planning process is to be taken forward on a five-yearly rolling programme. The first round of mapping and action planning applies to the largest of the agglomerations (including the industries and ports within them), the busiest major roads and railways and all major airports. During the second round all agglomerations, major roads, major railways and major airports as defined by the END will be mapped and then action plans will be developed for them.

Thereafter, according to the END (Articles 7, paragraph 5 and 8, paragraph 5), the maps and action plans will be reviewed, and revised if necessary, at least every five years. The END specifically requires that action plans should be revised within the five year windows, if necessary, after any ‘major development’.

The END also ultimately requires the use of a common method for assessing noise across the EU (Article 6, paragraph 2). Up to now there has not been any harmonised approach within the EU on the noise indicators used to assess noise. The END stipulates (Article 5, paragraph 1) that those responsible for mapping should use the new noise indicator L den and also L night – an eight hour period Leq. For definitions of L den, L night and Leq, please refer to Annex G of this document. Until such time as there are common assessment methods for calculating L den and L night noise levels, existing national methods, data and noise indicators can be used and adapted where necessary to provide results in terms of L den and L night. These methods should be able to give equivalent results to those obtained with the interim methods set out in paragraph 2.2 of Annex II (Article 6 paragraph 2).

The national data used for calculation of END metrics must not be more than three years old at the completion date.

Concept of Environmental Noise

‘Environmental noise’ is defined in the END (Article 3(a)) as: ‘unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise emitted by means of transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, and noise from sites of industrial activity such as those defined in Annex I to Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control’.

The END applies to environmental noise to which humans are exposed, but it specifically excludes noise created by the exposed person, noise from domestic activities, noise created by neighbours, noise at workplaces, noise inside means of transport and noise from military activity in military areas (Article 2).

Discussion with the European Commission regarding the interpretation of the extract regarding industrial noise in Article 3(a) has indicated that Member States are expected to go beyond the industries included in Annex I to Council Directive 96/61/EC. The Scottish Executive is proposing as an option a different definition of industry to that proposed for the rest of the UK and will go beyond those industries included in the Annex to provide a complete picture.

Transposing and Implementing the END

A Directive is a form of European Community legislation which is not directly applicable in Member States but instead has to be ‘transposed’ into Member State’s own legislation. Directives are binding only as to the result to be achieved and therefore leave flexibility to individual Member States in how they seek to meet the requirements of the END.

In European legislation, the UK is deemed to represent the Member State. However, in the UK, environmental noise is a Devolved matter and is addressed by the Devolved Administrations separately.

The END in a wider context

The END is a complex Directive relying heavily on the collection of data and computer technology to support the development of noise maps and action plans. As computer technology has developed, the way in which data are collected and managed by different organisations has changed, and continues to change rapidly. This trend is likely to continue. This means that an approach which is appropriate today for preparing noise maps and action plans may not be so in the future.

At a European level there will also be developments over the longer term. The Commission intends to establish common assessment methods in due course, although these will not be available for the first round of noise mapping (Article 6 paragraph 2). The Commission will then require Member States to use the new and harmonised methods for the calculation of noise levels using the required noise indicators. Projects such as Harmonoise, and Imagine 9 will start to deliver these new and harmonised methods. The implementation of the END will be reviewed by the Commission in 2009 after the first round of noise mapping and action planning has been completed. This may result in changes to the approach required to implement the second round of mapping and action planning.

The need for flexibility is also recognised by the Working Group on the Assessment of Exposure to Noise (WG-AEN) which advises the European Commission on noise mapping and related issues. WG-AEN has produced a Good Practice Guide (GPG) (Version 1, 5 December 2003) 10 which aims to assist Member States and their competent authorities to successfully undertake strategic noise mapping and produce the associated data on noise exposure as required by the END. This acknowledges that some data may not be available for the production of maps and identifies a number of options to overcome this. While some options may not produce maps as accurately as those which could be produced by the use of more detailed data, the results should still be sufficiently robust for the production of strategic noise maps and the prioritisation of measures in the action plans.

The GPG specifically addresses those requirements of the END associated with the first round of strategic noise mapping that must be completed by 30 June 2007. Version 1 of the WG-AEN GPG addresses 20 general and specific technical challenges that are raised by the contents of the END. In addition, it provides 16 toolkits that contain possible solutions to many of these challenges particularly those that concern the acquisition of the source related, geographic, demographic and meteorological input data required for strategic noise mapping and the production of associated data on noise exposure.

Process for making action plans

Action plans

The END requires the competent authorities, designated by the Member States, to develop and adopt action plans ‘designed to manage, within their territories, noise issues and effects, including noise reduction if necessary’. Plans for agglomerations shall also aim to protect quiet areas against an increase in noise. (Article 8, paragraph 1). The END also lists the minimum requirements for the content of each plan (Annex V)

Coverage of action plans

The END requires that, by 18 July 2008, the first round of action plans must be made for (Article 8, paragraph 1):

  • places near the major roads which have more than 6 million vehicle passages a year, major railways which have more than 60,000 train passages per year and all major airports (those with more that 50,000 movements per year); and
  • agglomerations with more than 250,000 inhabitants.

As with the strategic noise mapping (as set out in Chapter 3), lower thresholds will apply for the second round of action planning and subsequent rounds thereafter. The action plans prepared for 2013 must be made for (Article 8, paragraph 2):

  • places near the major roads, major railways and major airports; and
  • agglomerations.

The agglomeration action plans must cover the area of the agglomeration. Outside agglomerations action plans must be developed for places ‘near’ the designated major sources. The Scottish Executive intends to define the term “places near” in terms of levels of exposure which need to be reported to the Commission: i.e. out to the L den 55dB and L night 50dB contour bands in a noise map (see Annex VI of the END). The distance noise propagates from linear sources such as major roads and railways depends on the surrounding features. In practice the distance out to these contour bands is unlikely to be more than 2.5 kilometres. In the case of relevant airports the distance to the L den 55 dB and L night 50 dB contours would be rather larger.

Competent authority for developing action plans

The END requires the designation of a competent authority to be responsible for the development of action plans. The competent authority is responsible for ensuring that an action plan is developed but it may well be the case that the necessary powers to implement the actions which might be contained in the plan rest with other bodies.

Scope of action plans and the basis on which they are prepared

Action to reduce noise ‘if necessary’

The END states (Article 8, paragraph 1) that the measures to manage and reduce noise within the plans are ‘at the discretion of the competent authorities’ but that they should address ‘priorities’ which may be identified by the ‘exceeding of any relevant limit value or by other criteria chosen by the Member States’. The END requires the measures within the plans to apply in particular to the most important areas as established by noise mapping (Article 8, paragraph 1). The END also recognises that it will be necessary to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of any action proposed during the development of action plans (Annex V, paragraph 1). This will help to ensure that limited resources are being channelled to the most effective measures.

Limit values

Member States are required to inform the Commission of existing limit values or limit values in preparation (Article 5, paragraph 4). They must be expressed in terms of the noise indicators L den and L night. Limit values are defined as meaning ‘a value of L den or L night, and where appropriate L day and L evening, as determined by the Member State, the exceeding of which causes competent authorities to consider or enforce mitigation measures’ (Article 3 (s)).

Quiet areas in an agglomeration and in open country

4.14. Article 3(l) and 3(m) of the END have the following definitions:

‘quiet area in an agglomeration’ shall mean an area, delimited by the competent authority, for instance which is not exposed to a value of L den or of another appropriate noise indicator greater than a certain value set by the Member State, from any noise source;
‘quiet area in open country’ shall mean an area, delimited by the competent authority, that is undisturbed by noise from traffic, industry or recreational activities.

Article 1, paragraph 1(c) of the END states that one of the aims of the END is to preserve environmental noise quality where it is good. Article 8, paragraph 1(b) of the END requires that action plans should aim to protect quiet areas in agglomerations against an increase in noise. There is no requirement, or indeed mechanism, in the END at this stage to address quiet areas in open country. However, this may change at a later date. Article 11 requires the Commission, by 18 July 2009, to submit a report to the European Parliament and Council on whether there is a need for further community actions on environmental noise and to propose implementation strategies. One aspect that this report will consider, among other things, will be the protection of quiet areas in open country.

Steps in developing an action plan

While the END makes a clear link between the strategic noise mapping exercise and the action plans which must be developed (Article 1, paragraph 1 (c); Article 8, paragraph 1; Annex IV, paragraph 4; and Annex V, paragraph 1), the level of detail from strategic noise mapping is only likely to be sufficient to highlight areas where noise levels may be of concern.

Airport action plans may be a separate case as we propose that the Airport Operators should be the competent authority for the making of the action plans. The airport operators, as competent authorities would make the action plans for their airports in accordance with the requirements in the END. This would include involving the public both at the pre-drafting stage and consulting them on the draft plan once it has been produced.

Public consultation on action plans

The END stipulates that the Action Plan proposals must be put out to public consultation, and that the public be given early and effective opportunities to participate in the preparation (and review) of action plans. The results of that participation must then be taken into account when finalising the action plan. The public must also be informed of the decisions eventually taken (Article 8, paragraph 7).

Review of action plans

The END also requires that action plans be reviewed, and revised if necessary, at least every five years (Article 8, paragraph 5). The Scottish Executive proposes to establish a cycle where all action plans are revised (if necessary) every five years in the light of a mapping exercise which will be carried out the year before. The process for the revision of action plans would be the same as for their creation, including the requirements regarding public consultation.

The END also requires that action plans be reviewed, and revised if necessary, when there is a major development affecting the existing noise situation (Article 8, paragraph 5). The Scottish Executive proposes that the trigger for that review (and potential consequential revision) would be a development as set out in paragraph 3.26 such that could require a change to the existing action plan. Ideally the review and any subsequent revision should be carried out by the organisation or authority that carried out the mapping originally.

Finalisation of Action plans

As with the noise mapping In the context of action planning, there should be an approval process which will act as the mechanism whereby it is made clear when the legal duty to produce a map has been adequately discharged. This function is to ensure that action plans comply with the requirements of the END.

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