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Campaigners warn of funding gap in tackling rural road noise

10 September 2015

Image from the road noise map showing the area around Farnham Image from the road noise map showing the area around Farnham

CPRE uses new map and Government data to call for more investment and better management for rural roads

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling for national and local action to tackle a worrying surge in road noise and road traffic in rural areas.

New Government statistics show that traffic and hence noise is growing fastest on minor rural roads, with a shocking 5.5% increase in the past year alone [1]. Increased use of satnavs is believed to be part of the reason that traffic is spreading off major roads onto networks of minor roads, eroding rural tranquillity deep into the countryside.

Further Government data also published last month shows how far road noise from busier roads intrudes into the countryside. CPRE has used the data to produce an interactive map for authorities and the public [2]. It demonstrates how roads such as the A31, running through the South Downs National Park and along the Surrey Hills AONB, disturb the tranquillity of villages, protected landscapes and wider countryside [3].

To combat noise in rural areas, CPRE is asking the Government to divert some funding from Highways England, newly responsible for major roads, to local authorities, so that low-noise surfaces can be laid on locally run A roads as well as strategic national ones. Cuts to local government budgets mean that rural councils are struggling to maintain road surfaces.

To better manage traffic and speed on minor roads, CPRE is calling for local authorities to implement 40 mph zones and heavy vehicle restrictions. These would be particularly valuable in cherished and protected landscapes, where tranquillity underpins the experience and enjoyment of countryside.

Last year the Government announced £350 million of funding to reduce the environmental impacts of motorways and major A roads. This was welcome, but it does not cover roads within local authority control. As a recent Government study estimated the social costs of road noise in urban areas alone to be £7-£10 billion per year, the importance of mitigating the impact of road noise is clear [4].

Ralph Smyth, transport campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments:

“Road noise is estimated to have a similar cost to the economy as road crashes and congestion, yet we barely spend anything to tackle it. This means England is years behind our European neighbours. Besides the huge cost to the health of those who live within earshot of heavy traffic, road noise reaches far into our countryside, damaging tranquillity.

“Our new map shows the importance of last year’s announcement to fund the reduction of noise from major roads. But with road noise increasing fastest in rural areas, Government needs to extend funding to local authorities to protect the quiet areas we still have.

“While low-noise surfacing is needed on busy local roads, we also need to manage traffic better on minor roads, so that there are still country lanes where tranquillity can be found.”


Case study

The A31 runs from Winchester to Farnham through the South Downs National Park and along the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Much of the road has not had major work for 40 years. In February 2015, Hampshire County Council bid for funding to overhaul the surface of road from the Department for Transport but was turned down because of massive oversubscription of the available budget. While there is no funding to tackle noise from this road for many years, hundreds of millions of pounds are being given to Highways England to resurface 80% of the Strategic Road Network by 2020 with low noise surfacing.

Notes to editors

[1] Department for Transport, Road traffic estimates for Great Britain: April to June 2015, 13 August 2015

[2] The map is available at

The data for the map was published to comply with EU requirements on the mapping of environmental noise by Defra on 12 August 2015. It shows where average daytime road noise is higher than 55dB on motorways and A roads with more than 3 million traffic movements per year. Older data published in 2008 only showed roads with more than 6 million traffic movements.

[3] Besides road noise, the map highlights the roads that are the responsibility of Highways England, which took over major roads in April 2015, and nationally protected landscapes.

[4] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Noise pollution: economic analysis, 19 December 2014. Other recent research also shows the importance of mitigating the impact of road noise: a World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2011 identified environmental noise as ‘the second largest environmental health risk in Western Europe’.

If you would like to talk to Ralph Smyth about this in more detail then please contact the CPRE press office on 020 7981 2819.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Sir Andrew Motion, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.


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