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.
Keith Brown claimed in a Parliamentary response about a Scottish rail line, that the government were dealing with noise and vibration in accordance with the standards presented to Public and Parliament. [The standard being referred to were in the 2003 Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway Environmental Statement].
Strange! The Minster was asked last week, in person, to keep that promise, to actually apply those very same standards. He didn’t respond with a resounding ‘yes’. In fact, his response was to the effect that it depends on how one interprets those standards.
Huh? The standards are there, WHO Guidelines, BS8233, modern, health-based standards that are fully explained in public documents for anyone who cares to read them. What’s to interpret?
A clue comes later in a second Parliamentary response he made about the basis for the criteria being applied. He advised that they were using a defunct, 20 year-old DGB Mitchell Report [but didn’t use the term ‘defunct’ or 20 yr-old]. This he advised, was the basis for the criteria they were using.
None of this ties up. The Mitchell Report is out of date, doesn’t address health issues is ignorant of two decades of medical research and has nothing to do with the modern standards in the ES statement that he said was being applied. The Mitchell Report doesn’t even merit a mention in long appendix of reference reports compiled at the back. So we have modern, WHO and BS8233 health-based standards for night noise and vibration, right there in the Environmental Statement, black and white, standards Mr Brown and Transport Scotland gloss over or simply can’t find . . . yet, strangely, Mr Brown had no trouble finding a standard that wasn’t in the Environmental Statement. How bizarre!! .
The truth? Transport Scotland, with Keith Brown’s approval, has been avidly applying an outdated, health-damaging, 82dB Lamax night noise standard from the old Mitchell Report to a raft of new infrastructure projects across the country. It saves money for Transport Scotland because they don’t have to fund night noise mitigation and it give carte blanche to any company who has no qualms about emitting noise pollution but has qualms about cleaning it up. Unfortunately the public, get the dirty side of the deal: chronic sleep deprivation, high levels of stress, ischemic heart disease, physical, psychological and social deterioration and poor and delayed development in children.
What now? Keith Brown needs to take a hard look at what he means by interpreting standards. If that means ignoring what was clearly presented to Parliament, was vowed to be upheld, was used as evidence in order to win approval for the bill, then that’s not ‘interpreting’. If it means drafting in a standard that wasn’t presented, a standard that comes from other projects, a standard that stretches back into the mists of time, then, no, that’s not interpreting. It’s something else, something rather odious and somewhat less palatable,
This is a real issue, not only for those who suffer the relentless day and night impact of noise and vibration on this line, but for the whole country. When the printed, documented standards in an official report are being ignored, ‘interpreted’, swapped for something completely different, we have to ask —what does that say about the standards of the organization applying them?
This article and all views and opinions contained, are those of Archie McIver, Chairperson of NVAG. 7 Nov 2012