Strict noise regulations may drive up Tallinn and Tartu real estate prices

Cars in Estonia.
Cars in Estonia. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In October, the Association of Estonian Real Estate Firms (EFKL) proposed that the Ministry of Climate ought to make changes to the current noise pollution regulations and the way they are interpreted. According to the association, overly stringent standards make it impossible to build in noisy city centers and this will lead to an increase in property prices.

Real estate developers are trying to plan new developments along the busy streets in the center of Tallinn and Tartu. However, according to Andres Aavik, chairman of the board of the Association of Estonian Real Estate Firms (EKFL), the Estonian Health Board (Tervisiamet) will not approve detailed plans as noise levels on the streets in question are too high.

"In a sense, the Health Board has taken the lead role in urban planning and, is quite decisive in determining the planning conditions for different areas in Tallinn," Aavik told ERR.

The agency's positions are based on a regulation issued in 2016 by Marko Pomerants (Isamaa), who was minister of the environment at that time. Aavik pointed out that the Health Board has taken the strictest standard - the noise target value -as the basis for its decisions.

"We as developers, the climate ministry and experts too, are of the opinion that the Health Board has misinterpreted [the regulation]," Aavik said.

 "In fact, in a densely populated area, this most stringent standard should not be taken as a basis. In that case, construction would simply stop in Tallinn and in Tartu - at least along the roads."

Arvo Rikkinen, head of Tallinn's detailed planning service authority, said that the increase in the value of properties in the city center is not down to a reduction in construction.

"Nor can it be said that there is a small amount of construction in the city center," Rikkinen added.

Rasmus Pruus, head of the Estonian Health Board's (Tervisiamet) environmental health department, agreed that the regulation ought to be more straightforward and legally clear. In his view, the City of Tallinn has not paid sufficient attention to the noise produced by car traffic, meaning overall levels are very high.

"In urban planning, car traffic should be directed away from residential buildings, new housing should be avoided in noise-sensitive zones or local and technical solutions should be found to reduce ambient air noise levels in planned areas," Pruus said.

According to Reet Pruul, adviser to the Ministry of Climate's ambient air department, the focus should be on reducing the number of cars, rather than finding ways to construct more buildings in areas with high noise levels.

"However, there may have been an overreaction or overthinking when it comes to complying with these standards," Pruul said. "With smart architectural solutions, it is possible for people to live in peace. Common sense should be applied - you can't ban everything."

Pruul added that the Ministry of Climate believes there are three ways to reduce noise in the city: quiet car tires, quiet road surfacing or quieter aviation operations.

 "Of course, one of Tallinn's misfortunes is that the airport is so close," he said. "However, the most realistic thing for us would be to use quiet tires, because in the Nordic countries, quiet road surfaces simply can't withstand the cold."

Kaarel Sepp, environmental noise manager at Kajaja Acoustics OÜ, said noise should be reduced at the point where it occurs, by lowering speed limits on certain streets for example, and banning heavy traffic at night. He added, that buildings constructed alongside noisy roads should have soundproofing and glazed balconies.

"Then, there is the urban planning side of things, or how we place buildings in the urban environment," Sepp explained.

"Either we place them in such a way whereby the buildings themselves are away from the road, but as a result leave the spaces between the road and the building as a high noise zone. Or do we try to use the buildings themselves as noise barriers for the rest of the urban environment?" he said.

Aavik noted that noise levels could be measured differently than they are currently. "There is a requirement to comply with noise standards on building facades," he said. "However, in reality, the focus should be on the spaces where people are permanently present. Whether that is indoors or outdoors - playgrounds or recreational areas."

Pruul, from the Ministry of Climate, predicted that efforts would be made to solve the problem by the end of this year. "We are trying to improve the wording a bit," said Pruul. "First we will discuss it internally and then we will let you know how to express this more clearly so that there is no ambiguity."

According to the European Environment Agency, more than 300,000 people in Estonia, or one in five, are affected by high levels of environmental noise. Over a fifth of Estonia's population is impacted by long-term night-time traffic noise.

The Estonian Health Board (Tervisiamet) estimates that people living along major highways have a far higher risk of chronic health issues than those who are not exposed to constant noise.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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