London parks – oases of calm or noisy and polluted places

New research shows a third of London’s parks are severely impacted by traffic noise. At the beginning of this week CPRE London (the London branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England) published the results of a survey of traffic noise in 885 London parks. Neil Sinden and Alice Roberts of CPRE London summarise the findings.

This report – “Traffic Noise in London Parks” marks the launch of a new campaign by CPRE London called Tranquil London. We aim to promote improvements to green and public spaces for health and wellbeing.

Shockingly, our research found that nearly a third of London’s parks are severely impacted by traffic noise – meaning that more than 50% of the affected park is impacted by traffic noise of 55 decibels or above.  The research also found:

  • A wide variation between Boroughs, with Sutton having the fewest parks (7%) severely impacted by traffic noise and Enfield the most (57%)
  • Fewer than half (44%) of the London parks surveyed are completely free from traffic noise
  • Around one in five (18%) of the parks surveyed are completely noisy i.e. traffic noise of 55 decibels or above can be heard throughout the park
  • A quarter (25%) of London’s parks are impacted by particularly loud noise defined as being where at least one quarter of the park is impacted by noise of 60 decibels or above

Recent research by the charity Fields in Trust shows that parks bring £34 billion of benefits to the UK.  Yet, the potential benefits are much greater because traffic noise puts people off spending time in parks. Noise also contributes towards a range of physical and mental health problems. And there is a strong correlation between noise and air pollution from traffic, so where people are exposed to noise, they are also exposed to air pollution.

CPRE’s Tranquil London project aims to promote and increase the benefits of green space and the wider public realm within the capital. There is a growing recognition of ‘tranquillity’ as an important aspect of environmental quality and public health.  Tranquillity is defined as the sense of calm and relaxation felt by people in an outdoor setting, and includes but is not limited to the absence of noise disturbance.  There is a growing understanding of tranquillity in a rural context but less awareness of its extent and importance in the urban environment.

While there are major benefits in terms of health and wellbeing, access to tranquillity in urban areas is under threat due to growing development pressures and rising noise levels.  CPRE London wants to generate public understanding and support for policies and practical action to protect, enhance and extend tranquil places.  A range of measures can be used to tackle noise in parks such as closing roads at weekends, or removing traffic entirely by re-routing roads. Where this is not possible, the use of noise barriers or natural features can make a major difference to both noise and air pollution.

Our parks provide an unparalleled range of opportunities that benefit the health of individuals, communities and the natural environment. These include relaxation, community get-togethers, sport and play, contact with nature, and safe travel routes. Londoners are being encouraged to use them more, to realise these many benefits. The factors impacting on their attractiveness need to be addressed. Noise and tranquillity are key considerations which, as this report reveals, should be given much greater attention.

You can read the full report here.

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