The Court Case Result
In Stirling sheriff court, on the 26th of April 2016, it was confirmed that coal freight movements had stopped and would not resume. As a result, Stirling Council withdrew the statutory nuisance abatement order served on DB Shenker and Freightliner in December 2015. There was no longer any need for them to appeal.
Why the Shaking Stopped
The noise and vibration of the coal freight wagons was sufficient to damage the glass canopies in Stirling station, according to a Network Rail spokesperson. Rail chiefs said this station was being damaged by freight(see news report) . Network Rail managers showed little sign of concern that the physical pollutants that were damaging their own infrastructure were undermining the health and sleep of those living next to the line.
The coal freight came to an end. It might seem, at a glance, like an amicable agreement had been reached, but all is not as it seems.
Following Legal Advice, Stirling Council is to Take Enforcement Action on Rail Noise and Vibration
Stirling Council is to come to the rescue of line side residents who, following the opening of the SAK Railway line in 2008, have been left with broken promises and high levels of noise and vibration.
A report commissioned by the Council in late 2014 found that night time noise levels outside resident’s homes constituted a statutory nuisance and that vibration levels at some properties was excessive. Network Rail and the freight operators have continued to run heavy night freight despite pleas, complaints and even written requests from the Scottish Parliament in attempts find a solution.
Now, thanks to the support of elected politicians, there is hope that enforcement orders will protect the health and well being of those affected by these forms of railway pollution.
Protecting the Heart of Scotland
Stirling, due to its central position and strong transport connections, is considered by many to be ‘the heart of Scotland’
Context: NVAG Posted an Article on Railways’s 3Rs, Roles, Regulations an Responsibilities an article that concluded with an open letter to Richard Price, CEO of the Office of Rail Regulation.
Richard Price, CEO of ORR, Responded as Follows (also available as a PDF file from ORR’s website):
Dear Mr McIver,
6 February 2015
SUSTAINABILITY, NOISE AND VIBRATION
Thank you for your open letter of 21 January regarding noise and vibration
from railway operations.
As well as having led work on the economics of sustainable development, I
live next to the railway myself, so I fully understand your concerns and the
importance of this issue. It really matters, and affects the quality of people’s
lives. I also recognise that the legal framework for the oversight and
enforcement of noise and vibration levels on the railways is not
straightforward – so let me try to set out the different responsibilities clearly.
The sixth and last working group meeting was initiated on Tuesday 13th August 2013 (though adjourned) with the main topics of discussion:
freedom of information requests
arrangements for monitoring of noise and vibration levels
legal obligations of the council regarding noise and vibration.
statutory nuisance, standards and guidelines
The meeting was adjourned rather than closed as the Council’s legal advisor was delayed and his input was deemed necessary prior to concluding the meeting. Continuation at the later date would also provide an opportunity for FVHB to provide advice on health aspects.
[Official minutes will be made available by the Council at a later date. Below are some notes taken by NVAG representation on the group and are not intended to represent wider views or full content of the meeting]
MEETING NOTES by NVAG
Preliminaries and approval of minutes.
RAILWAY DEFENCE AGAINST LEGAL ACTION
Discussion towards past events, and possible legal defences such as the Defence of Best Practical Means available to railway operators, were deemed off agenda by the chair, Councillor Danny Gibson, who advised that the group was moving forwards and the focus now was on the Council’s legal obligations towards the public.
CANCELLED PROTECTION FOR RESIDENTS
The issue of freedom of information requests (FOISA requests), was raised with regard to obtaining the SAK Line Project Board minutes. It was agreed that the full set of these should be requested. BACKGROUND: the Project Board, consisting of representatives from Transport Scotland, Network Rail, Clackmannanshire Council, steered the latter part of the construction of the SAK line and is believed to have cancelled the acoustic barriers intended to reduce noise levels for residents. Details of these barriers, with locations were presented to both the public and Parliament in the SAK Environmental Statement. As part of ECHR requirements, vows were made to honor the Environmental Statement and to protect residents. These vows were quickly abandoned once approval had been given by the Scottish Parliament and construction had begun..
Monitoring of nose and vibration levels was considered and issues of possible houses and areas and the number of sample locations. It was agreed that the monitoring be done by an external consultant rather than the Council’s environment team.
Discussion included a hand out listing Local Authority duties regarding environmental protection as required by EPA1990, (environment protection act). This listed Council obligations:
1. monitor the environment and investigate complaints
2 make a judgment of whether or not the pollution constituted a ‘statutory nuisance’
3 serve abatement orders if the pollution was judged to be a statutory nuisance.
PREJUDICIAL TO HEALTH
Statutory nuisance was discussed, it’s definition, from EPA 1990 being any pollutant that is a ‘nuisance’ or, on the balance of probability, ‘prejudicial to health’.
Also discussed were issues such as why World Health Organization guidelines were not being used by Council Environmental Health officers to classify noise levels (measured in 2009) as prejudicial to health and thus a ‘statutory nuisance’.
There was general agreement that it would be better to obtain current noise levels and that vibration levels, in any case, were never properly measured in 2009. There still remains the issue of what levels of noise or standards the Council should use when deciding whether to class the pollution as a nuisance or prejudicial to health.
CONTINUATION OF MEETING
The proposed date for continuing the meeting is 12th September 2013; the aim is to have an interim report submitted for the next meeting of the Council’s Environment Committee.
This record taken by A. McIvor, NVAG chair person.