Reigate & Banstead Borough Council has agreed to write to Highways England about noise on the local stretch of the M25, following a petition that was signed by more than 600 people.
The carriageway between junctions 8 to 11 is particularly prone to noise because it is constructed from concrete slabs rather than asphalt which is typically quieter.
The online petition, set up by former councillor George Curry, asked the borough council to liaise with neighbouring councils and local MPs on the noise issue on the local stretch (junctions 8 – 9), and write to Highways England.
The petition asked the council to particularly raise “resurfacing of the atypical concrete slabs installed between M25 junctions 8 and 9″, and request “man-made sound barriers and tree planting along this section of motorway to protect residents”.
Citing EU research on the impact of noise on wellbeing, wildlife and education, the petition added: “We also call on Reigate & Banstead Council to consider how it can combat noise pollution from roads directly via planning policy or other powers under its control.”
The petition also said: “Highways England is responsible for the M25 Motorway and has recently pledged to reduce noise pollution. It has announced it will take steps to cut noise levels in more than 1,000 areas close to motorways and large A-roads by 2020.”
“Furthermore, the organisation says it has adopted the policy of installing quieter road surfaces wherever possible.”
Presenting the petition, Mr Curry said the noise generated by the “unusual” concrete surface was now “intolerable”, given increases in traffic – and with more growth forecast.
He added that the advent of electric vehicles would not solve the problem, as at speeds over 35 mph the noise issue is down to the sound of the wheels on the road rather than the engine.
Mr Curry said that more than ten “Noise-Important Areas” between junctions 8 and 9 existed, according to regulatory criteria.
He said: “These noise-important areas highlight hot spot locations where the highest 1% of noise levels at residential locations can be found.
“Many of these highlighted noise-important areas aren’t even protected by sound barriers and have little or no tree cover – which floods our residential areas with motorway noise.”
Mr Curry added that even with repairs to joints between concrete blocks, noise would still be higher than with an asphalt surface.
Executive member Cllr Natalie Bramhall (Con) responded on behalf of the council, saying that Highways England had accepted that it had a responsibility to address noise pollution on its network.
Referring to information received from Highways England about junctions 8-9, Cllr Bramhall said: “To address noise issues, Highways England is concentrating on locations where the greatest number of people are exposed to the highest noise levels.
“A number of individual properties close to the motorway along this stretch have therefore been selected for noise insulation.
“In addition, joint repairs on the concrete sections of the clockwise carriageway were recently completed and whilst there are currently no plans to resurface the carriageway in this location, Highways England is currently trialling techniques to improve concrete roads elsewhere in the South East.
“Highways England has identified there is limited room for further tree planting within the highway boundary – that is, land over which they have control – and notes that to be effective as a noise barrier a dense belt of mature vegetation of 10 – 30 metres depth is required.
“Finally, they recognise that their currently allocated funding has not allowed them to undertake detailed work across all Noise Important Areas.
“Whilst details of their funding for the next five-year period, 2020-2025, are not yet known, they do anticipate that further funding will be allocated to continue this work in the future.
“As you know, in terms of the council’s own responsibilities, we have no powers in relation to road noise.
“We do have a planning policy that seeks to mitigate the impact of noise from other sources, and we have environmental health powers to investigate noise complaints but not those arising from roads.
“Members of the executive are happy to support the petition to the extent we are able to within our statutory powers.”
The meeting agreed to recommendations that Reigate & Banstead should write to Highways England, work with MPs and local councils, and also forward the petition to Surrey County Council’s local committee (Surrey is the local highways authority).
Councillors also formally noted that the council’s powers on noise pollution are limited to engaging with the highways authorities – but that where there is evidence of new or increased disturbance this would be drawn to the attention of Surrey County Council.
During the debate, Cllr Jonathan Essex (Green) said that as well as noise and air pollution, Highways England needed to consider climate change, in the light of Surrey County Council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency and Reigate & Banstead’s potential declaration.
He said Highways England should not just seek to add capacity, citing recent examples of that approach including “smart” motorways which had led to road safety fears.
Cllr Essex said Highways England should be looking at “transport management, and not just road surfacing”.
Leader of the council, Cllr Mark Brunt (Con), said he welcomed the petition, and that he had personal experience of the noise issue, having a garden close to the motorway. Among his remarks, he said he would discuss with Surrey their recent commitment to plant 1.2 million trees to see if that could help with noise absorption.
The petition is the latest in a number of efforts by Surrey residents to address noise on the concrete sections of junctions 8-11 of the motorway.
Updated for clarity 8 Nov 2019.