Turning down the volume

Tackling noise pollution in the capital

December 22, 2021

Excessive noise poses a real and serious risk to human health. Long term exposure to traffic noise is one of the most damaging environmental threats to public health in western Europe, second only to air pollution. Polling of Londoners by Deltapoll for Policy Exchange shows that only eight per cent of the city’s inhabitants report never being bothered by noise, slightly higher than the six per cent of Londoners who describe themselves as being very hard of hearing.

During lockdown the fall in traffic and international air travel led to a significant reduction in environmental noise. Policy Exchange polling shows that only 24 per cent of Londoners would be happy for noise to return to pre-pandemic levels. If this is to be avoided, now is the time that action on noise needs to be taken. The five most hated noises in London are: Sirens (54%); private motorbikes and scooters (52%); loud music played from vehicles (51%); engine revving (48%); and vehicle alarms (48%). In contrast, Londoners reported enjoying hearing: Wildlife, e.g. bird song (60%); trees rustling (48%); water (48%); children (17%); and church bells (13%).
To help curb noise levels, the report recommends, among its solutions, an increase in the planting of street trees, and testing to see if the dB levels of sirens could be reduced without harming their efficacy. In response to the 42% of people who find helicopter noise to be aggravating, Policy Exchange recommends the Metropolitan Police Service invest in drone technology that would allow them to reduce the use of helicopters over London, and that the Mayor should work with the Met to set targets for the reduction in helicopter usage over the next five years. Policy Exchange recommends bringing in higher fines for breaching Public Spaces Protection Orders in London, and using the money to invest in acoustic cameras in order to identify disruptive drivers.

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Sophia Falkner

Research Fellow (2019-2021)

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