Environmental Noise – The Planning Process and the Impact on Residential Quality of Life

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Maintaining the balance between the buzz of noisy urban life with its pubs and clubs, industrial plant and transport, and the reasonable protection of the health and well-being of people within their homes in densely populated urban environments, is the combined responsibility of local authority planning considerations and good acoustic design by specialist consultants.

The planning process in urban areas focuses primarily on the control of environmental noise, and prior to any planning application being approved an environmental impact survey will be commissioned and an environmental impact assessment prepared by a qualified acoustic consultant. The protection of residential dwellings is the primary objective, with local authorities and acoustic consultants taking guidance on acceptable internal noise levels in new residential dwellings from BS.8233.1999 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines.

These documents utilise a single reference point, in the case of the WHO document 55 dB LAeq for outdoor amenity noise and no more than 30 dB LAeq in bedrooms at night (23:00 – 07:00). These reference points will be the focus of the environmental impact assessment following the environmental noise testing, and although needed, are broadband noise levels which are constant and non tonal – very different in nature to noise generated from entertainment. This guidance does not take into consideration the low frequency content of such noise which is acoustically challenging to tackle. Subsequently local authorities’ approach to low frequency content can and does vary, and the protection a resident may reasonably expect to be in place can become a postcode lottery dependent on the policy of the local planning authority.

Safeguarding quality of life from environmental noise is potentially further compromised by the drive for sustainable development and low cost social housing. Sustainable development promotes more efficient land use from high density mixed use development, and prioritises the use of previously developed land, particularly vacant and derelict sites and buildings. The result can be development in areas that do not meet and therefore conflict with the environmental noise guidelines recommended in the available guidance such as from the WHO.

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