In August 2010, following a complaint from nearby residents, the Queensland Ombudsman commenced an investigation into noise from night-time surface works on the Airport Link Project.
Residents complained that the noise of night-time surface works, some of which was occurring 24/7, was unlawful.
Following the investigation, the Ombudsman released his report in June 2011.
The Ombudsman found that night-time surface works are allowed under the conditions set for the project - as long as those works do not generate excessive noise, vibration, dust and traffic.
He found that the meaning of 'excessive noise' was not defined in project documents, which hindered the effective regulation of noise from night-time surface works.
The Ombudsman made 24 recommendations about improving the regulation and monitoring of noise from night-time surface works.
The Queensland Ombudsman asked the Coordinator-General to notify him of steps taken, or proposed to be taken, to give effect to the Ombudsman's recommendations.
The recommendations generally comprise:
- actions to better define noise regulation terms
- actions to better determine what works being conducted at night fall outside of the 'special circumstances' provisions and more effectively regulate noise generated by those night-time construction activities.
The Coordinator-General has responded to the Ombudsman, committing to take the necessary steps to implement all the recommendations relating to the Office of the Coordinator-General.
Conditions of approval
In May 2007, after evaluating the project proponent's environmental impact statement (EIS), the Coordinator-General released a report recommending the project proceed subject to conditions.
The conditions relevant to the Queensland Ombudsman's investigation are:
- Condition 7 (b) - which establishes the days and hours surface works are allowed, including works that generate 'excessive levels of noise'.
- Condition 9 (d) - which sets out noise goals, the exceedance of which triggers the implementation of mitigation measures and monitoring.
For more details, read the Coordinator-General's report on the EIS - Appendix 1 - Conditions ( 635 KB).
What is 'excessive noise'?
In May 2010 - prior to the complaints that triggered the Ombudsman's investigation - the Coordinator-General clarified and reinforced the term 'excessive noise'.
However, in response to recommendation 12 of the Ombudsman's report, the Coordinator-General decided to amend the May 2010 clarification and reinforcement of the term 'excessive noise'.
Following is an excerpt of a letter sent to BrisConnections (the concessionaire) and Thiess John Holland (the builder) on 3 February 2012, detailing the amendment:
Definition of the term 'excessive noise'
The generation of excessive noise, as stated in Condition 7, occurs when noise measured at a sensitive place (for example inside of a bedroom of a home nearby) exceeds the noise goals stated in the Coordinator-General's Report, Appendix 1, Schedule 3, Condition 9, or the background noise (whichever is greater).
Internal noise goals for sleeping areas have been set for the project during night hours (from 6.30 pm to 6.30 am). These noise goals are based on existing national standards for sleep disturbance. The goals are detailed [in] Appendix 1, Schedule 3, Condition 9 (d) (i) and (ii).
Measurement of noise at night
The noise goals [in] Condition 9 (d) are based on noise measured internally, in the sleeping areas of a residence.
In a residence that has had noise mitigation applied to the sleeping areas, monitoring is to be undertaken with the mitigation active. However, in a residence that has not had noise mitigation applied to the sleeping area, monitoring is to be undertaken with the sleeping area in the state in which it is normally occupied.
For example, this may mean that if the state in which the sleeping area without mitigation applied is normally occupied includes windows open to a certain extent, then noise monitoring is to be conducted with the windows open to this extent.
Thiess John Holland advised a former Coordinator-General of difficulty in measuring noise inside homes for which noise complaints have been made. It is understandable that residents are reluctant to allow strangers in their homes during the night.
I support the former Coordinator-General's advice to Thiess John Holland that a suitable alternative method is to measure the noise levels externally and deduct an amount of 10 dB ('A' weight scale) to obtain an approximate internal value. These measurements should be conducted in accordance with the Department of Environment and Resource Management's Noise Measurement Manual.
Enforcement of breach of Condition 7 (b) - 'excessive noise'
Prior to determining whether to commence enforcement action for a breach of Condition 7 (b), factors that I may consider include:
- whether the works carried out are construction activities other than spoil haulage works
- whether the works occurred outside the hours of 6.30 am to 6.30 pm, Monday to Saturday
- what levels of noise were generated by the works
- whether there were special circumstances justifying those works outside those hours
- whether those levels are excessive.
To establish that those noise levels that are exceeding the Condition 9 (d) levels are excessive, factors that I may consider are the:
- duration, number and time of those exceedences
- level of those exceedences
- effect of those exceedences
- mitigation provided and/or offered
- consultation conducted.
When considering the effect of noise exceedences, I may:
- seek evidence from persons affected by the noise
- seek expert advice to explain the significance of any level of exceedence.
The consideration of whether the noise was excessive noise under Condition 7(b) and whether to take enforcement action may also involve taking into account the actions of BrisConnections, Thiess John Holland and the resident in relation to mitigation of the residence. Where noise modelling predicts that noise goals for sleep disturbance are likely to be exceeded by construction works, then reasonable and practicable mitigation and management measures must be adopted. The measures taken in such circumstances would be part of any assessment of whether noise has been excessive.
Consideration must be given to circumstances where a property owner and/or resident refuses mitigation measures offered. In these circumstances, the review will consider the application of a 'reasonable and practical' test to the resident, BrisConnections and Thiess John Holland. The Coordinator-General also will be guided by the Strategic Compliance Plan when considering whether to undertake enforcement action.
'Temporary' and 'long term' noise
In response to recommendation 5 of the Queensland Ombudsman's report, the Coordinator-General has published the following statement, clarifying the meaning of the terms 'temporary' and 'long term' for steady construction noise under Condition 9 (d):
With reference to the terms 'temporary' and 'long term' steady construction noise contained within Appendix 1, Schedule 3, Condition 9 (d) of the Coordinator-General's Report for the Airport Link Project, having considered the information presented in the Ombudsman's Airport Link Project Report 2011, and other noise impact advice and assessment, I am of the view that, given the long construction period for this project (approximately 4 years), the construction noise generated by the project is long-term noise.
In particular, the temporary noise goals are only appropriate for one-off operations that last for one night only, for example the mobilisation or demobilisation of a Favco tower crane. I consider that for any other steady construction noise, the long-term noise goals should be applied.
It is my expectation that for the remainder of the construction phase of the Airport Link Project, construction noise impacts will be assessed, monitored, mitigated and managed in accordance with this interpretation of how the 'temporary' and 'long term' noise goals should be applied for the purposes of Appendix 1, Schedule 3, Condition 9 (d).
It follows that this interpretation also applies when assessing what is 'excessive noise' in accordance with the previous clarification and reinforcement of the term 'excessive noise' in Appendix 1, Schedule 3, Condition 7 (b).
Targeted noise monitoring program
In response to recommendation 21 of the Queensland Ombudsman's report, the Coordinator-General has published a targeted noise monitoring program ( 34 KB) for the Airport Link Project.
In response to recommendation 6 of the Queensland Ombudsman's report, the Coordinator-General has defined 'major roads' and 'minor roads' in Brisbane as follows:
- major roads - those shown in Map D of the Brisbane City Council's City Plan 2000
- minor roads - those not shown in the abovementioned map.
These terms appear in Table 3 of Condition 9, Schedule 3, Appendix 1 of the Coordinator-General's Change Report on the Airport Link Project, July 2008.