Raceway noise 'a risk' for residents

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014

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Intellectually disabled residents living near Ruapuna racetrack risk having their health seriously degraded by sustained noise exposure, an expert says.

Sitting just a stone's throw from the Mike Pero Motorsport Park at Ruapuna, Birchwood Farm is a five-acre residential and day care facility.

It is one of seven properties that received a buy-out offer from the Christchurch City Council in 2009 when it was found to be within the extreme noise zone and affected by "unreasonable" noise.

The six other properties all accepted the offer and affected residents told The Press they could not believe Birchwood, which is the second-closest property to Ruapuna, had not moved on.

Auckland University of Technology environmental health researcher Dr Daniel Shepherd, who has investigated the effects of noise on community health, said sustained exposure to extreme noise could degrade a person's health "quite significantly".

One resident who was bought out by the council said living next to the speedway track was "torture". "The constant noise just drove you insane. We moved as far away as we could afford," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

Wanda Shaw, who used to live within a kilometre of the track, said she used to walk around her property with earmuffs on, but could still hear the engines.

It was almost impossible for residents to watch television or listen to the radio when the cars were running, she said.

"There is just no way the people at Birchwood should still be there. They are trapped and the powers that be have done nothing at all."

When the council offered to buy out the seven properties in 2009, it also discouraged any education or health facilities from operating near Ruapuna.

Housing New Zealand (HNZ), which owned the Birchwood property, declined the council's buy-out offer in 2010.

HNZ said NZCare, the organisation that runs the facility, was relieved it did not sell.

NZCare Christchurch south area manager Karen Rickerby said the council had offered to swap Birchwood Farm for another house a few hundred metres down the road, but it was unsuitable.

It was two-storey, did not have wheelchair access ramps and the surrounding grounds were a lot smaller.

There had been no complaints about noise from residents, their families or staff, Rickerby said.

"I am sure we would have heard about it if anyone thought it was a problem."

NZCare service manager Martin Kerrigan said many of the residents enjoyed hearing the revving engines.

Most had visited the racetrack and some had even been allowed to sit in the cars, he said.

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"Ruapuna has been really generous, they know the noise can impact on their neighbours and in the past they have given us free tickets and said, ‘If you can't sleep, come on over and join us'."

Kerrigan did not believe the residents were adversely affected by the noise at all.

Shepherd said the World Health Organisation had released substantial documents outlining the chronic effects of noise exposure through either sleep disruption or noise-induced annoyance.

These problems would probably be exacerbated by those suffering psychiatric disorders as they often struggled to concentrate or process information with distracting sounds, he said.

"These are individuals who obviously can't speak for themselves and others are making decisions on their behalf. This is definitely an ethical issue."

Shepherd believed a minimum expectation of the facility would be to invite an impartial clinical psychologist to observe the residents and assess any potential impact on them from noise exposure.

- The Press

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