Re­duce the rum­ble

It comes high on the list of ‘must not haves’ for many Lon­don­ers in search of a ru­ral idyll, but how big a prob­lem is road noise and what, if any­thing, can be done about it? Ara­bella Youens in­ves­ti­gates

Country Life Every Week - - Property News -

ANY­ONE liv­ing in a vil­lage main street will know this to be true: Bri­tain’s ru­ral roads are get­ting busier. Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment for Trans­port, traf­fic on ru­ral A roads is at an all-time high. Af­ter the eco­nomic down­turn in 2007, the num­ber of goods ve­hi­cles criss-cross­ing the coun­try lev­elled out, but, since 2013, they have risen rapidly. The in­creas­ing use of sat­nav by lorry drivers has, in no small way, con­trib­uted to the is­sue. For some­one in the mar­ket for a coun­try house, how big a prob­lem is noise?

For Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying So­lu­tion, it’s a grow­ing one (07825 609001). ‘Fif­teen years ago, vil­lages off the A40 were un­af­fected by the rum­ble of traf­fic, but it’s now so busy that this is no longer the case. Tran­quil­lity now comes with a pre­mium in the coun­try­side: one house could be 25% more ex­pen­sive than an­other be­cause it’s not blighted by road noise.’

The prob­lem is also likely to stop peo­ple from look­ing at a house in the first stages of their search as they arm­chair-browse from home, says James Macken­zie, head of the coun­try­house de­part­ment at Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5190). ‘This is be­com­ing more of an is­sue due to Google Earth—buy­ers make a de­ci­sion be­fore re­al­is­ing there are un­du­la­tions, hills and cut­tings that stop road noise, even if the house looks close to the main road,’ he says.

Of course, noth­ing will com­pletely si­lence the prob­lem, but there are mea­sures to mask it. Land­scape de­signer Mar­cus Bar­nett (020–7736 9761) has been com­mis­sioned to in­ter­vene in var­i­ous ways, from se­ri­ous land­scap­ing projects, in­clud­ing earth banks, to a mix­ture of fenc­ing and fast-grow­ing ever­greens. ‘We’ve done ev­ery­thing from wa­ter fea­tures in Lon­don gar­dens—the ear prefers the sound of wa­ter and chooses to lis­ten to that over other noises—to larger projects in­volv­ing bunds and thick copses of na­tive de­cid­u­ous and ev­er­green trees,’ he ex­plains. ‘The lat­ter pro­vide a vis­ual and a sound-re­duc­ing bar­rier—but it’s not go­ing to to­tally re­move the dis­tur­bance.’

Psy­chol­ogy plays a strong role in how both­er­some road noise is, so the first so­lu­tion should al­ways be to ad­dress the vis­ual as­pect; once you can no longer see head­lights through a lau­rel bush or a good wil­low fence, ir­ri­ta­tion is di­min­ished. ‘It’s some­thing that peo­ple will de­cide to com­pro­mise on,’ says Jonathan. ‘If you live in the house full-time, it’s likely you’ll get used to it even­tu­ally, but week­enders com­ing out of Lon­don for peace and quiet won’t be there long enough to do that.’

Re­cent clients of Lucy Winfield from Pri­vate Prop­erty Search (07961 405325) went so far as to com­mis­sion noise-abate­ment pro­fes­sion­als to ex­am­ine a house they were in­ter­ested in buying on the Sur­rey/hamp­shire border. ‘They con­ducted sound tests at dif­fer­ent times of day and the con­clu­sion was that, if they con­structed a bund and did some tree plant­ing with fenc­ing, they could bring the level down by 25%,’ she says. ‘My clients went ahead and bought the house. I doubt they’ll ever do the land­scap­ing, but know­ing that the op­tion was there gave them com­fort.’

Even if the full ben­e­fits of hard land­scap­ing or plant­ing won’t be re­alised for sev­eral years, the in­vest­ment is al­ways wise in terms of re­sale value, be­lieves James. ‘Road noise is prob­a­bly one of the most off-putting things and any­thing that can be done to re­duce it is worth it,’ he says. ‘I’m aware of many clients who’ve spent hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds build­ing bunds; in ev­ery ex­am­ple, they added value.’

Sounds of si­lence: lau­rel hedges (above) are highly ef­fec­tive at screen­ing noise and the leaves of Pop­u­lus tremela (above right) mask un­wanted dis­tur­bance by evok­ing the trickle of wa­ter when the wind blows

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