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Assessing and managing environmental noise, reducing the number of people exposed to excessive sound levels, improving quality of life and improving environmental quality are current and future concerns in the management of cities.

Municipalities are responsible for assessing and managing environmental noise (Decree-Law no. 146/2006). It is the mission of theLisbon City Council, through its technical noise assessment team, to provide information to the city’s dwellers on environmental noise and its effects, monitor exposure to noise in external environments, produce Strategic Noise Maps and approve action plans aimed at preventing and reducing environmental noise and its effects in Lisbon, as well as encourage the population to adopt adequate measures and behaviours.


Noise in cities and the role of the Municipalities

Noise is a primary cause of poor quality of life in cities, to the extent residents often feel uncomfortable when they experience silence and enjoy pleasant sounds only on rare occasions. Cities have always suffered the detrimental effects of noise. Even in ancient Greece, in 600 BC, craftsmen were required to set up their workshops outside the city’s perimeter, such as to not disturb the peace. This problem became worse with the industrial revolution and the huge technological developments it brough about. Nowadays, noise poses a global challenge and is prioritised differently from city to city and country to country.

We are exposed to varying sound levels on a daily basis. Traffic, cultural events, trade and demonstrations, amongst other activities, contribute to generating noise in urban areas. Noise levels on a busy street, where traffic is intense, can reach up to 90 dB(A); a rock concert generates sound levels up to 115 dB(A). These levels are considered high.

It has been sought to expand green areas in Lisbon, which offer residents the opportunity to do sports, walk and adopt healthy lifestyles by enjoying the many parks and gardens where they can listen to the calming sounds of nature. 

The Lisbon City Council monitors, assesses and controls noise on a periodical basis, such as to improve environmental quality in the city. Noise Assessment, which is carried out by specialist technicians from the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, involves the monitoring of constructions sites, commercial establishments, restaurants, bars, public areas, residences, feats and events, amongst others.

Noise management in Lisbon

Noise management is ensured by public and private entities and bodies. 

In the city of Lisbon, noise is managed by the Municipality, the Portuguese Environment Agency, the Commission for Coordination and Development of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley, the Regional Health Authority and the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority, as well as road, railway, airport and port authorities.

The Lisbon City Council is responsible for granting licences to noise generating activities, temporary and permanent, establishing adequate conditions and supervising the operations involved, such as to improve the quality of life of the population. It is also responsible for adopting measures aimed at reducing noise levels, namely the use of low-noise road surfaces, limitation of speed in certain residential areas (Zones 30), establishment of low emission zones (LEZs), installation of acoustic barriers, expansion of the city’s cycle network, promotion of public transport (cards) and creation of new green areas, amongst others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers environmental noise a major public health issue, having established a series of environmental guidelines for Europe, including daytime and night-time noise limits, such as to protect human health against exposure to environmental noise from various sources.

Green Areas and Tranquil Zones

Did you know that 76% of all Lisbon residents live less than 300 metres from calm, low-noise areas?

The environmental management strategy adopted by the Municipality prioritises the preservation of green areas in Lisbon, in order to offer all residents the opportunity to enjoy these tranquil areas.

‘In the last few years, we have created more than 300 new hectares of green areas, a hugely significant achievement.’

José Sá Fernandes, CML councillor responsible for the Environment, in Lisbon, European Green Capital 2020.

Noise legislation in Portugal

In effect since 1987, noise prevention and sound pollution legislation is currently enforced through the General Noise Regulation (GNR) (Decree-Law no. 9/2007, of 17 January). This regulation applies to noise generating activities, permanent or temporary, that usually disturb the peace, namely transports, construction works, performances, nigh-time entertainment, residential noise and others.

The State is responsible for safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the population in what regards environmental noise. According to the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, rest and sleep are considered fundamental rights of the people (article 25) and paramount to preserving the environment and quality of life (article 66).

General Noise Regulation (GNR)

The General Noise Regulation (GNR) establishes the legal regime applicable to noise prevention and control, with a view to ensuring the health and wellbeing of the populations. According to this Regulation, residential buildings, schools, leisure areas, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are considered noise sensitive receptors.

Different rules are defined by the GNR for noise generating activities, according to the sources of noise involved, which are categorised as follows:

  1. Activities that generate permanent noise: activities that generate uncomfortable noise levels in the proximities, on a permanent basis (bars, nightclubs, performance venues, etc.).
  2. Activities that generate temporary noise: occasional activities that generate noise, on a temporary basis (construction works, feasts, processions, fairs, parades, balls, etc.).
  3. Residential noise: noise generated by people or animals during daily activities, which may affect public health and/or tranquillity.

The municipality regulates the aforementioned activities in compliance with the GNR, in order to minimise the effects of noise on the city’s population. This regulation specifies three time periods, to which different noise limits apply, namely the daytime period (7:00 - 20:00), the evening period (20:00 - 23:00) and the night-time period (23:00 - 7:00).

Acoustic Testing Laboratory

The Lisbon City Council Acoustic Testing Laboratory (ATL), an entity certified since April 2013, is responsible for carrying out all sound tests and measurements required for ensuring compliance with the General Noise Regulation.

An average 50 complaints are analysed every year at the Laboratory.

The International Noise Awareness Day was created in 1996 to raise awareness of the effects of noise on the health and welfare of people. This day is celebrated every year on the last Wednesday in April.


What are Noise Maps and what are they used for?

Noise Maps are tools used by city councils to diagnose and manage noise in the cities. A noise map is a graphic representation of sound level distribution in a given region, allowing municipal authorities to identify priority areas of intervention, regarding several indicators. 

Noise maps are used by the municipalities to identify adequate measures for reducing the effects of noise, such as acoustic barriers, which are exterior structures designed to protect populations exposed to sound levels above the legally allowed limits, usually in areas of intense road traffic. Although noise barriers generally consist of engineering solutions, geographical features and natural vegetation may also protect residents from excessive noise. The installation of acoustic barriers must be carefully planned, such as to ensure that the structures used do not prevent or reduce accessibility or visibility.

Two indicators are used in noise maps: Ln, which is the average noise level over the night-time period (23:00 - 7:00); and Lden, which is the weighted average over the entire day.

Which entity should you contact to complain about noise?

Source of noise Type of noise Entity to contact
Neighbours (pets, music, voices, dragging of furniture, etc.) Residential noise Police forces (PSP and MP)
Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, services, gaming halls, sports pavilions, garages, laundries, gyms, religious services Noise generated by permanent activities Lisbon City Council (CML)
Transport infrastructures (roads, railways, airports) Noise generated by infrastructures Operator
Feasts, events (sports events, cultural events, performances) and other events taking place in public areas and gardens Noise generated by temporary activities PSP and PM, CML, Parish Council
Building works Noise generated by temporary activities CML
Common facilities and equipment in buildings (elevators, ventilation systems, electric garage doors, transformers and water drainage systems) Noise generated by permanent activities CML

Are you organising an event that will generate noise on a temporary basis?

Submit a SPECIAL NOISE LICENCE (SNL) application.

A temporary noise generating activity is any activity taking place over a limited period of time whose sound levels might cause nuisance to local dwellers, namely parades, fairs, sports competitions, performances, feasts, live concerts and markets, amongst other events.

A special authorisation is required for this type of activities, whose application must be submitted to the Lisbon City Council.

In order to minimise the nuisance caused by the noise generated by these activities, the Lisbon Municipality environment team assesses each situation and issues the respective Special Noise Licence (SNL), which includes the requirements to be met, in addition to coordinating efforts with the Municipal Police in order to ensure compliance with such requirements.

Applications can be submitted by filling in and emailing the licence application form, available on https://informacoeseservicos.lisboa.pt/servicos/detalhe/licenca-especial-de-noise-ler[IM(1]. Alternatively, this form can be filled in and submitted at a Loja Lisboa (Lisbon Bureau). 

No special noise licence is required to organise a private party at a private residence or garden (these activities are governed by article 24 of the General Noise Regulation, being subject to supervision by the police forces, under the terms of article 26).

Who can apply for a licence? Any individual or legal person, public or private. Do you know how to submit a noise complaint rapidly?

Who can apply for a licence? Any individual or legal person, public or private. Do you know how to submit a noise complaint rapidly?

You can submit complaints regarding problems in public areas, municipal facilities or urban hygiene to the Lisbon City Council or Parish Councils through the NA MINHA RUA LX (ON MY STREET LX) portal.

App available in the Apple Store, Google Play and https://naminharualx.cm-lisboa.pt/.

View the tutorial to find out how to use the App.

Sound and Noise

Sound is a vibration that propagates through a transmission medium, usually air, which determines its speed. Sound waves are characterised by their frequency, measured in hertz (Hz), and amplitude, which corresponds to their intensity.

Sound becomes noise when unwanted and perceived as a nuisance or source of discomfort, disrupts rest and affects human health, sometimes irreversibly. The disruptive effect of noise depends on its origin, distance, transmission medium, exposure time, intensity, time of day and receptor sensitivity.

How is sound measured?

Sound levels are measured based on sound pressure and expressed in units known as decibels (dB).

Sound meters are generally used to measure sound frequency and sound pressure levels (SPL), which represent the way sound is perceived by the human ear.



Acknowledgements

Director of the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Maria João Telhado.

Noise Assessment Team: Ana Santos, António Cruz, António Garcia, Bruno Romão, Célia Jeremias, Conceição Amaral, Graça Soares, José Canedo, Manuela Franco, Manuel Pereira, Nuno Sanches, Pedro Desidério, Pedro Oliveira, Rui Duque and Vasco Tavares.

OCubo - Lisbon Under Stars team

Photography: Ana Sofia Serra, Armindo Ribeiro and Carlos Morais da Silva.

Video: Claudia Silva and Nuno Loureiro. Edited by Nuno Morais.