Royal Docks Noise Mapping
The Royal Docks in Newham, east London, sits along the bank of the river Thames and was historically a gateway between London and its global markets. London City Airport (LCA), constructed in 1986, is located in the heart of the community and principally serves the financial districts of London.
Noise pollution: Residents in the Royal Docks expressed concerns over increasing levels of noise, which they perceived were being generated as a result
of LCA’s operations. The number of passengers using the airport has risen in consecutive years to 3.3 million in 2008. The increase in airport traffic has impacted the local community who are unhappy about the levels of noise pollution they are being exposed to. Additionally, concerns were raised due to London City Airport’s approved expansion to increase the number of flights by 50%, to 120,000 per year.
We devised a simple survey method to enable the community to collect their own noise readings. Residents were given affordable noise meters and trained in how to collect the data. Over a period of seven weeks local residents conducted a cohesive noise mapping survey during which readings were taken at all hours of the day and night across the areas surrounding the airport. Over 500 individual readings were taken across the site. In addition to recording decibel (dBA) levels, residents also provided subjective annotations that expressed how they felt about the noise. They were asked to choose from a selection of words such as relaxing, annoying, or disturbing to describe the sound source. Using a Geographical Information System the data was compiled and visualised in a local Noise Map. Residents found disturbingly high levels of noise, with many readings exceeding levels deemed to cause serious annoyance under the World Health Organisation community noise guidelines. The vast majority of readings taken were described as Loud, Very Loud or Extremely Loud.
In addition, the measurements gathered by the community revealed a clear correlation between unacceptable levels of noise and the LCA operating hours. One of the residents said “the noise is irritating, I can’t relax or have the window open – but I can’t shut-out the noise so have to turn the TV up – but everything is then so loud.”
The results also revealed that individuals are quite accurate in their perception of noise levels (see pdf of qualitative results), suggesting that perhaps people are very reliable noise monitors!
What has Changed?
Using our online Community Map platform, further monitoring was undertaken by a wider community, including residents from the neighbouring boroughs of Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Greenwhich, during the Icelandic volcanic eruption. The volcanic ash cloud grounded all flights across the UK for several days. This provided residents with the rare opportunity to compare noise levels during normal flight operations to a no-flight period. Noise levels rose to the 60 decibel range on only three occasions during the no-flight period. During normal flight operations highs of 87 decibels were recorded with just under a third of all readings exceeding 60 decibels.
The results of Royal Docks mapping survey were presented at an open meeting attended by local residents and the Environment Officer for Newham council. Residents had the opportunity to find out more about the way in which the local authority monitors noise and were able to express some of their concerns. Fight the Flights – a local campaign group, some of whose members participated in the monitoring, went on to submit a legal challenge against Newham council’s decision to approve the expansion. Their efforts and the noise mapping activities gained coverage in The Evening Standard (see article). One of the participants said that they felt that “the Royal Docks mapping project brought residents together and gave them confidence to call for changes in their community.”