As noise is a major environmental and public health problem, the EEB and T&E warmly welcome the development of a Framework Directive on Noise. The legislative framework across the EU is scattered and very diverse with respect to measurement methods, limit values and abatement measures. Furthermore, only a minority of Members States have fully integrated noise policies and none of them have implemented a consistent noise abatement plan in recent years.
This state-of-the-art is difficult to understand if one compares the initiatives taken in other equivalent issues like air quality. Taking the same evaluation and risk analysis methods as a basis, we can easily conclude that the risk of major health problems induced by noise is much more visible and numerically observable than for other pollutants.
Our general assessment of the draft Framework Directive on Noise is therefore generally positive. However, we believe there are certain details that need to be addressed, particularly in the case where positive elements of earlier drafts have been removed. The following are preliminary comments, regarded by T&E and the EEB to be of particular importance, for version Dir28 of the draft Framework Directive on Noise, distributed 1st March 2000. Our work in this area is ongoing and more detailed comments will follow later. (Please refer to our earlier comments of October 1999 for our general view of the process and our basic positions regarding the issues).
1. Use of numeric rules for definition of noise classes
The environmental NGOs observe with great concern, the maintained withdrawal without any technical justification of a central aspect of the Directive. We are of the opinion that the March 1999 draft – officially not available to us - had a central feature: an annex with several numeric rules for the definition of noise quality classes. Those classes were based on sound research concerning ‘annoyance’, and had significant health and environmental implications. These guiding principles for the definition of noise quality classes should be re-introduced, as a consistent EU noise policy is not attainable without a precise definition of noise classes. It is difficult to understand why - with the amount of research available on the subject and with similar results obtained throughout different Member States - the EU noise policy should not introduce minimum limit values or, at least, scientifically based indicators to be used as guidance.
2. Scope of the Directive
The change of the “scope” article (n° 2) from the previous draft corresponds not only to a new formulation but also to an all-new philosophy. We agree that the objectives of the EC policy are much better defined in the new and reformulated articles 8; 9,10, 11 and 12, that answers many of the stakeholders worries about the role and the goals of the EC. However we strongly disagree with the removal of ‘neighbour noise’ and ‘work noise’. For the first time, the EC aimed to have a comprehensive and scientifically based noise policy. In order to achieve that goal, considerable amounts of money are being spent in receiving the inputs of some of the best experts in the field. Environmental organisations do not understand why this expertise should be jeopardised, by not extending input to such important noise areas.
In the same context, we believe that all residential zones - and zones where special projects may be constructed or are expected to be constructed (i.e.; hospitals, schools) - should be considered as sensitive zones. These sensitive zones should be expected to achieve and maintain an overall limited level of noise exposure defined by the indicators that were removed from the last two drafts. Thus we strongly recommend the introduction of the concept of ‘sensitive zones’ as is already being introduced by some Member State legislation.
4. Definitions of ‘agglomeration’ and scope
We praise the extension of the Definitions (Article 5) with the introduction of new concepts; discussed by the stakeholders; namely the concepts of quiet zones in agglomerations and the open country, and also action plans for agglomerations, major roads, airports and railways. However, we do not agree that ‘agglomerations’ should be defined by a minimum of 100,000 persons. It is important to acknowledge that noise is a problem directly related to human activity and it follows that the greater the number and density of persons, the higher the probability of experiencing noise problems. Many neighbourhoods may be experiencing severe noise exposure but may not be part of such large agglomerations. It should be considered that unusually high densities can exist despite the fact that they might be part of small urbanised areas. Thus we strongly recommend that ‘limit values/indicators’, as originally introduced by the Commission (see Point 1 above), be re-introduced such that sensitive areas suffering from unacceptable noise exposure be addressed, even though these areas may fall out of the defined scope of the Directive. We also strongly recommend that the number of persons in the definition of ‘agglomeration’ be reduced to 30,000 (note: 20,000 has been defined in the air quality framework). Our proposal for the new phrasing of point J of Article 3 is: “agglomeration” means part of their territory; delimited by the Member State, with a population in excess of 30000 and/or with such a population density that the Member State considers it an urbanised area.
5. Definition of airports
We understand and support, for the above-mentioned reasons, the definitions used for ‘major ‘roads’; ‘railways’ and ‘airports’. However, we believe the numerical definitions used are unable to identify and tackle the problem efficiently. First of all, it is completely inappropriate to define a major airport as having 20,000 take-off plus landings. Not only does noise perception research show aviation noise to be more annoying than other transport noise, but research undertaken near so-called ‘small’ airports shows levels to be higher than anticipated, exceeding even the weakest forms of existing noise legislation e.g. military airports, mixed civilian/military airports. Further, there exist strong seasonal variations in airport use such that the definition should take in to account this very important aspect. In line with research findings, we therefore urge that a more inclusive and precise definition for ‘airports’ be used as well as lower limits.
6. Definition of Roads
Defining a major road as a four-lane road with more than 2 million vehicle passages a year is artificially restraining the problem. We think that these definitions need to be discussed thoroughly in the working groups.
7. Scope of noise mapping
We do not understand that while defining ‘agglomeration’ as containing 100,000 persons, the proposal states (under Article 7) that noise mappings should only be prepared for the agglomerations with more than 250,000 persons and for the major roads, airports and railway within this territory. To maintain consistency, the proposal should require noise maps for agglomerations of 100,000 persons (or 30,000 as suggested under Point 4). In addition maps should be prepared for ‘sensitive zones’, that may not be part of a certain sized agglomeration and therefore fall outside the scope of the Directive, but which are shown to be suffering from unacceptable levels of noise exposure.
We commend Article 11 of the new draft. However, as regards the wording of the first sentence, “the Commission may make a proposal”, the word ‘may’ is non-committal, ‘shall’ is better, and ‘will’ is, in our opinion, the most appropriate formulation.
We believe that the Committee described under Article 12 should be open to stakeholders with a standard procedure to be discussed.
 This Directive was adopted on 26 July 2000 as COM(2000)468 Final: Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council Relating to the Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise