A year and a half of noise

Students at Cambridgelaan bothered by noise, but rarely complain

Werkzaamheden gevelplaten Cambridgelaan
Construction works are a nuisance for the students living in the Cambridgelaan student complex. Photos: DUB

The students living in the student housing complex on Cambridgelaan were used to hearing the plaintive bleating of sheep or the enthusiastic quacking of frogs. Now, all they hear is the thumping and roaring of machines. That's because a new high-rise building is being constructed right next to theirs. Dubbed High Five, the new building is set to house 921 students. The construction work started in February 2023. As if that wasn't noisy enough, the facade panels of the Cambridgelaan building have been deemed a fire hazard, so they're being replaced. One of the buildings has now been surrounded by gates, machines, and crew. “The construction work is right in my face,” says one resident, who is very bothered by the noise.

geluidsoverlast Cambridgelaan Foto: DUB

Activities on facade panels Cambridgelaan.

Noise nuisance
The beautiful rooms of the future students who will live at High Five someday are coming at the cost of current students' sleep, DUB learns after asking if anyone was bothered by the noise on a Facebook group for Cambridgelaan residents. A total of 38 people reacted to the post. Many of them are disturbed by noise in the morning when the construction work on High Five starts. “I think the biggest problem is that the work starts so early,” says Femke. “They wake me up every morning at 7:00 am. I close my windows but I can never fall back asleep,” complains Cas.

Cas stresses that students' lives are different from the ones of other groups in the population. “Most of our social activities happen at night. So, when we go to bed ‘late’ and they wake up early, we are basically sleep deprived, which is bad for our mental and physical health. We could go to bed early but that would mean missing out on many social interactions that are also important for our mental development and, consequently, our physical health.”

Many of the students who replied to our Facebook post are also bothered by the noise during the day. “My room is liveable but I can't concentrate without headphones anymore and that’s just annoying,” says Femke. Veerle, who has to work from home twice a week, agrees: “I can’t let any fresh air in before 3:00 pm. That’s when the noise ends.”

geluidsoverlast Cambridgelaan Foto: DUB

Construction site student building High Five.

Even more noise
In July, the students' rooms became even noisier because, in addition to the High Five works, renovation works started on the facade of the high-rise building of the Cambridgelaan complex. The owner of the complex, SSH, had to replace the facade panels immediately because they were considered a major fire hazard.

People working on this project regularly knock on students' doors to check whether they left stuff in the hallways or in front of fuse boxes. The stairwells, the only flight path for residents, was immediately taken care of by covering the windows with fire-resistant panels but the regular entrance was fully closed off to traffic to create a large construction site. The space between the two towers is now slowly transforming into a scaffolding jungle. The result: even more noise. “They wake me up at 7:00 am and I can't get back to sleep. I'm very sensitive to stimuli, so this stresses me out."

geluidsoverlast Cambridgelaan Foto: DUB

Activities facade panels Cambridgelaan.

Construction starting later
Although dozens of students living at Cambridgelaan seem to be disturbed by the noise pollution, only two of them have complained to SSH about the works on the facade. No complaints have been filed about the High Five complex. Why? Well, most students feel that complaining about the noise is not going to make any difference, while others acknowledge that the work simply has to be done, so they're hoping that it will be finished according to schedule. But that doesn't mean that the residents don't have any suggestions on how to reduce the nuisance. Cas: “If they would just start at 8:00 am instead of 7:00 am, that would already make a huge difference.” His roommate Sanne, agrees: “Yes! My life would be so much better.” They are not the only ones who think that's a good idea. Other students also indicated that they would like the construction work to start one hour later. It would also help if SSH would install double-glazed windows in their rooms, which wouldn't only cancel most of the noise but would also be cheaper, given current gas prices, and better for the environment.

geluidsoverlast Cambridgelaan Foto: DUB

Construction site student building High Five.

No bouquets
Natascha Duetz, area manager for Vorm 2050, the company constructing the new building for Jebber/SSH, says that starting at 8:00 am wouldn't be so easy to do. “If we don’t work for an hour, that means we'll finish the building later, which would have dire financial consequences. But that's not all. There are so many interests involved. Where would we find staff interested in starting the day later and finishing the day later as well? Besides, the housing shortage is huge. That's why we want to finish the building sooner rather than later.”

Additionally, she emphasises that both Utrecht University – the owner of the grounds High Five is being constructed on – and SSH have taken residents' interests into account. High Five is not being constructed from the ground up, as usual. “Instead, we're using prefabricated elements which are delivered and then a crane lifts them up. We chose this construction method because it’s a lot faster and it causes a lot less noise disturbance. If we were to build it using a traditional method, the noise would be much worse. Just take the works on the facade panels, they are a lot noisier." 

The fact that the project has an area manager who keeps an eye on everything says a lot, according to Duetz. She claims that Vorm 2050 strives to keep a close relationship with the people in the surroundings, so complaints about the work are taken very seriously. The company also follows a Bewuste Bouwer (Conscious Builder, Ed.) code of conduct, which aims to ensure a safe and tidy environment with as little nuisance as possible. Duetz clarifies that other construction sites deal with far more noise nuisance and most construction projects don’t even have an area manager. “There are no awards for avoiding noise disturbance at construction sites. We know that construction works disturb the neighbours but, unfortunately, that’s just the way it is sometimes.”