On the 16th March 2017 I participated in the Environment Committee meeting, which tackled the issues of tube noise and Heathrow expansion. The first part of the meeting, addressing the problem of tube noise, is especially important to me as I have been contacted by many of my constituents on this matter.
Residents from across London were among the guests giving evidence at the Meeting. All of them have previously contacted Assembly members regarding the noise, and some are part of an alliance of local campaigns such as the Tube Noise Action Group (TNAG) or pre-existing resident associations that have taken up the Tube noise issue.
In a recent letter to the Transport Committee, Transport for London (TfL) stated that in the lead up to the Night Tube, they had increased investment in both their renewal and maintenance programmes, which included installing more than 5,000 shock-absorbent track fastenings. According to TfL, they have secured a significant reduction in noise in homes in Bethnal Green, which is in my borough of Hackney. The letter also stipulated that during March they would carry out work to smooth rails, in order to address complaints in Highbury, which falls into another of my boroughs – Islington.
According to TfL, they log every complaint they receive via a short questionnaire which enters the answers onto a database. This then allows TfL to determine which sections of track receive the most complaints in order to prioritise mitigation work.
However, TNAG report that when concerns have been raised with TfL, Londoners are frequently told that there have only been minor increases in noise levels and that these are isolated cases. Many of the people who have filed complaints find that their address has not been registered in the complaint log, with some having been ‘lost’.
TNAG are clear: “no-one is against the Night Tube or the day Tube. Londoners value the public transport service that TfL provides, which makes London a great place to live and work. Londoners just want to be able to implement noise reducing measures in some areas, so success is possible.” Consequently, members of their campaign were present at the environment committee a couple of weeks ago in order to petition for a written, funded action plan to present to the Mayor with a call to address Tube noise. They also argued for an independent body that would catalogue complaints and monitor results.
In this video you can see how I quizzed Duncan Weir, Head of Operational Upgrades and Asset Development at London Underground, about the specific steps TfL are taking to combat these issues. As I made clear, the time allowed at the environment committee meeting only allows an initial exploration of the factors leading to what I term an ‘epidemic’ of noise issue across London. . However, I used this time to draw attention to the scale of noise nuisance and to address the damage it can cause to the health and well-being of Londoners.
I ask Duncan how long TfL has known about this. As someone who has worked with my constituents for over ten years helping them to build this case it seems clear to me that TfL should have taken this into consideration much earlier on. As you can see in the video below, I have this to say to him and to TfL:
‘I want to start by welcoming your apology to Londoners for the distress, discourtesy and disrespect that they have experienced over the years and continue to experience.’
In the rest of the video, which you can find on my Youtube channel, I question him over TfL’s objective to reduce volume by 6 or 7 decibels, even in those areas where residents are experiencing 50 decibels of noise. I talk to him about the ‘very lively, quite proper’ network of local campaigns in my constituencies and beyond whom have spoken about how the responses from TfL to complaints is so variable and haphazard, almost like ‘luck of the drawer.’ I ask him would he be looking to develop some kind of standard in terms of an engineering response to this epidemic of noise nuisance related to the Underground and in some instances the Overground services that TfL are responsible for.
I ask him to provide us with some sort of schedule after the meeting that will show us where he expects to be carrying out work in the future, especially in Highbury and Angel, and Seven Sisters, or Elephant and Castle. I tell him how it seems that residents in every borough seem to be affected, and he assures me he has plans for every complaint that the have received.
In some areas that I’ve been working on, there appears to be no explanation for what is causing the higher decibels and the noise, even though in some places the ‘grinder’ has been used on the track two or three times in an attempt to tackle the problem. I argue that if TfL were more responsive, more willing to acknowledge that they are not always sure how to reduce Tube noise, but resolved to remain focused on finding a solution, it would be much better.
Finally, I tell him ‘saying you’ve got a plan to implement, and implementing it, in TfL’s world can be nought to two years…that’s the experience of people. So you’re saying that there is no funding problem, and you’ve got the engineers… so you’re basically saying since you’ve taken over you have a handle on it. But you still have outstanding work that looks like it’s going to take years rather than weeks or months!’
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Watch the full video of me here.
Watch the full Environment Committee meeting here.
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