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Noise pollution

Excessive noise from aircraft, road traffic and railways can affect quality of life. Find out about regulations to control noise pollution, what you can do to tackle noise problems and how to find a noise map.

Road vehicles

The noise levels for cars used on a public road is 74 decibel (dB(A)). Most vehicles produce lower levels.

Off-road vehicles and direct injection diesels are allowed to be 1 dB(A) louder. These allowances can be combined, so the limit for an off-road vehicle with a direct injection diesel engine is 76 dB(A).

It’s illegal to modify the exhaust system to make a vehicle noisier after it has been ‘type approved’ (checked it meets environmental and safety standards). The police can also take action if your vehicle's silencer doesn’t work or if you’re driving in a way that creates too much noise.

Road traffic noise

There are no specific legal limits on road noise. However, noise levels might be taken into account when planning to build:

  • new roads
  • houses and offices near roads

Noise barriers or noise insulation, like double glazing, can reduce the problem. If noise from new roads exceeds certain limits at existing houses, you might be able to get a noise insulation grant as a householder. These are available through your local highway authority – get their details from your local council.

In England the Highways Agency is resurfacing existing roads with low-noise materials. It's also working to reduce noise in places with the most serious problems – for example, by noise-proofing nearby properties. To see which areas have been chosen as in urgent need of noise reduction, see 'Answers to parliamentary questions' under 'Road schemes'.

Proposed new road schemes

New road schemes are publicised at the planning stage. If you're worried about a road scheme, contact your highway authority – get their contact details from your local council.

For England and Wales, a range of booklets explain the Land Compensation Code.

Booklet 1 explains the overall process – read this one first.

Booklet 5 explains noise reduction work you may be entitled to.

Highway authorities assess noise when planning a new road scheme to see whether it will be noisier at your property once the new road is open.

If your property is within 300 metres of a new road, you may be offered a noise insulation package. This can include:

  • secondary glazing
  • ventilation
  • venetian blinds

More information, including information on how to appeal, is included in booklet 5.

You can also claim compensation if your house has been affected by a new road.

Railway noise

People living close to railways might be affected by high noise levels. However, there are no legal controls unless the noise is caused by a new railway affecting your property. In this case, you might be able to get a noise insulation grant.

If particular trains are causing you a problem, speak to the company that runs those trains. You can find information on train operators on the National Rail website or by calling Network Rail's 24-hour helpline on 08457 114 141.

Aircraft noise

The European Union regulates noise at these UK airports:

  • Birmingham
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow
  • London Gatwick
  • London Heathrow
  • London Luton
  • London Stansted
  • Manchester

There are more stringent restrictions at London City and Belfast City airports, as they are near large cities.

Noise limits also vary depending on whether they are for day or night flights.

To reduce noise, air traffic:

  • should fly over the least-populated areas on take-off whenever practical
  • has restrictions on night flights (eg partial ban on night flights or complete phase-out of the noisiest aircraft)
  • offers grant schemes to install noise insulation in homes affected (contact the airport that affects you – the BAA website has contact details for airports)

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website has information and advice, including a factsheet on aircraft noise.

How to complain about aircraft noise

If you want to complain about noise and low-flying aircraft, you should:

  • get in touch with the airport concerned – you can find airport details on the BAA website
  • report to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

Military aircraft

Military aircraft are covered by different rules. You can complain about excessive noise or low flying from military aircraft through the Ministry of Defence (MOD) website.

Noise maps

On the Noise Mapping England website you can find interactive noise maps for cities and large urban areas. You can search by postcode and view airports. You can also download noise maps of the major transportation links between cities and large urban areas.

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