New EU noise law almost ready for approval

Lawn mowers only major stumbling block to directive on noise from outdoor machinery

EU environment ministers should be able to rubber stamp a new directive on noise pollution from outdoor machinery next month, if diplomats can settle disagreements over maximum noise levels from lawn mowers, according to Brussels diplomats.

National negotiators discussed the dossier on Monday for the last time before it is passed up to senior diplomats and then to ministers next month. There is broad agreement on the directive which aims to harmonise noise standards for more than 50 types of machinery ranging from hedge trimmers to chainsaws (ENDS Daily 25 February 1998). The law will require noise labelling on all types of machinery covered and will set limit values for around half of them.

The main outstanding issue, which senior diplomats will try to resolve on 9 June, centres around Denmark's call to strengthen the European Commission's proposed noise limit values for lawn mowers. Different noise limit values are proposed for lawn mowers falling into three different size categories, the smallest being a machine with a cutting width of up to 70cm.

Denmark wants to insert a fourth category of machines of between 50 and 70 cm. Other countries - such as the UK which has a large lawn mower industry - are resisting this, claiming that industry would find it technically difficult to apply the proposed noise reduction to these machines without reducing their performance.

A Commission official said that the new law would not contradict a forthcoming proposal for framework directive on noise that takes a horizontal - rather than product-based - approach to noise limitation. The Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) has already started drafting the document, which will be published some time in 2000.

The framework law will aim to harmonise the way noise is measured throughout the EU. It is also likely to require all cities of a population greater than 250,000 to make a thorough analysis of noise pollution and to set up an action plan to tackle excessive noise. There may also be a second phase when smaller cities - perhaps towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants - would have to do the same.

The framework will not prescribe the policies that should be used to reduce noise, but will set out a list of ideas that local authorities should consider. According to a DGXI official, these would include traffic planning measures, noise barriers, using quieter buses, encouraging more public transport use and prohibiting cars from city centres.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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