As noise complaints about operators increase, Roger Brown looks at ways to keep local residents happy
Road transport can be a noisy business, and operators could be vulnerable to noise complaints from nearby residents and businesses.
However, experts tell MT that many noise disturbance problems with neighbours can be tackled if firms adopt a two- pronged approach: better training for drivers and greater investment in noise reduction technology.
According to Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy for the South East, drivers should be encouraged to switch off their engines and refrigerator units when they are in the yard and to stop slamming truck doors or dragging exit gates.
“Companies should consider training to promote behavioural changes among drivers and warehouse staff,” she adds.
Lisa Lavia, MD of the Noise Abatement Society (NAS), believes haulage firms need to ingrain noise reduction procedures in the culture of the business in the same way they do health and safety procedures.
“Because delivery yards have lots of hard surfaces and cavernous structures, noise tends to bounce around and create vibrations through the yard,” says Lavia.
“As a boss, ask your drivers not to scrape their wheels against kerbs, not to have their radios on loud at delivery points, tell them not to shout or throw boxes into the back of vehicles. If possible, give drivers an incentive, perhaps a financial bonus, to do this.”
The other obvious answer is to invest in anti-noise technology, but often the cost can discourage hauliers. However, as Chapman points out, alterations to premises and fitting quiet kit to engines and acoustic sensors to trailers can be expensive, “but such measures may prevent costly legal disputes further down the line”.
Lavia adds: “Quiet reversing alarms are easy to fit and worth the investment, as well as investing in new fleets, broadband sound reversing alarms and quiet roller shutter doors.”
But are residents becoming more forthright about airing their grievances?
“It’s a change from years ago; residents are much more likely to complain and complain more effectively than before,” says Lavia. “They will write to MPs and councillors, contact local newspapers and attend meetings.”
Chapman agrees: “People seem more prepared to pick up the phone these days and get the local authority involved.”
Although the NAS has not noticed an increase in noise prosecution cases by councils, Lavia believes there is a trend by council planners – particularly in London boroughs such as Southwark and Westminster – to insert noise-related conditions at the planning stage.
“Noise conditions are there to fix a potential problem,” says Lavia. “However, we find operators are generally very receptive to such ideas because the haulage industry is already a heavily regulated one.”
Objections can be made on environmental grounds such as noise, fumes, pollution, vibration and visual intrusion. Other grounds for complaint include the suitability of the operating centre for the size and number of vehicles and trailers, parking facilities and the safety of the entrance and exit arrangements.
Last month, MT reported on a case that illustrated the willingness of local authorities to crack down on transport operators that breach plan-ning notices.
The three owners of Nijjar Dairies – trading as Freshways – were fined a total of £57,000 (including costs) at Acton Magistrates’ Court for breaches at the company’s depot in Acton, West London.
Nijjar Dairies had ignored Ealing Council planning notices to plant trees to act as a noise barrier and visual screen at the site, authorised for 25 vehicles and three trailers. The court was told how the number of movements at the site sometimes exceeded 1,000 a day.
Councillor Julian Bell, Ealing council leader, says his authority “will not hesitate” to take similar action against transport businesses in the future. “This is a substantial fine for a company that repeatedly ignored planning notices over a prolonged period of time,” he explains. “Had Nijjar Dairies taken the simple actions we advised, it would have avoided this fine.”
Another case saw Cranleigh Freight Services (CFS) appear at a Public Inquiry last month, following an objection from Surrey County Council because of noise complaints from nearby residents. Although CFS won its bid to continue with 70 vehicles and 70 trailers at its Dunsfold Park facility in Surrey, the Traffic Commissioner (TC) imposed restrictions on vehicle movements covering weekends, bank holidays and nights.
Chapman says problems sometimes occur where there is a well established, well run depot in existence but residential properties then get built close to the site.
She adds: “It’s unfair on the company but it is often the new residents who make the complaints.”
Jack Semple, RHA policy director, agrees that new housing developments can present problems for hauliers, but believes the “diversity of haulage premises” must be protected.
He adds: “Any excessive concentration of truck operating sites will lead to excessive mileage and emissions and increase pressure on the availability of lorry drivers.“
However, Ian Baxter, MD at RH Freight, is an enthusiast for more so-called “freight parks,” in the UK, built away from residential areas.
Barcelona has a logistics zone next to the port area with transport firms located together,” he says. “These areas are designed for transport businesses and have excellent infrastructure links – we need more of them here.”
The FTA’s advice to hauliers is that if a problem should develop, “don’t ignore it, deal with it”.
“It is important for transport firms to talk to residents, discuss the issues and come up with a compromise if necessary,” Chapman explains. “Conversations early on will nip any problems in the bud,” she adds.
The RHA’s Semple says: “We always advise members to adopt a good neighbour policy, minimising disruption where they can, although we would hope members do that anyway.”