Monday, April 12, 2010

Parliamentary Speech - Noise

Construction projects are signs of progress and renewal. They are a welcome sight. However, in a small country like ours, they inevitably cause inconvenience. They issue is how to balance the different interests, and whether we have got the balance right.
I ask the Minister to review that balance where the issue of noise in concerned. I have raised this issue before, but complaints from my residents compel another try.
It is an important issue as it affects our well being. International organizations, such as the WHO, have highlighted the negative effects of noise on the physical, psychological or social functions of people.

Currently, the Environmental Protection and Management (Control of Noise at Construction Sites) Regulations sets out the noise levels permitted at different areas. The levels vary according to time, place, and duration. The current regulations permit construction work to be carried out near housing estates on Sundays. It only provides for very slight adjustments in terms of timing and noise levels. For example, Part II of the Second Schedule states that the maximum permissible noise level between 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. for construction sites affecting residential buildings located less than 150m from the site is 75 decibles. From 7 p.m – 10 p.m., the contractor is allowed 55 decibles. In both cases, there is only a 15 decible reduction from that allowed from Mondays to Saturdays.

But more importantly, construction work does not progress at a steady hum. There will be instances where the work will from time to time exceed the limit, but not breach the regulations because it is not sustained. This is of little comfort to those who have had their rest disturbed.
I propose that construction activities near housing estates should cease, or at least be heavily restricted, on Sundays.

Sir, Sundays are an important time for recreation. For most people, it may be the only time in the week they get to rest at home and spend quality time with their families. Yet, the current laws allow construction work to begin as early as 7a.m. on Sunday mornings, and for construction work to continue throughout the day. This is not the case in some other developed countries. In the UK, several town councils, including the City of London, prohibit construction work on Sundays and bank holidays. New York City goes further. The New York City Noise Control Code provides that construction activities can only take place on weekdays between 7a.m. – 6 p.m. These cities recognise that managing areas of high human density require special rules. Is there any reason why residents in Singapore receive different treatment?

The inevitable argument is that such rules will delay projects and increase costs. However, has a study been done to determine the extent of that increase? Are developers suggesting that such rules will not make developments commercially viable? It is difficult to believe that. In any event, can the developers not work smarter and conduct other kinds of activities on Sundays? Is this not a situation where we are leaning too much in favour of corporate interests?

I therefore ask the Minister to review the rules on noise.

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