NEWS Acoustics

Noisy Neighbours: Town & Country Planning Act 2020 Amendments, what are the acoustic implications?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and the Climate emergency you may not have noticed that the Government amended the above Act in July 2020 to simplify the class use system. Designed partially in response to the pandemic, this amendment allowed for a change of use between different classes without the need to obtain planning permission, as was previously the case.

The idea is to speed up the planning process and provide flexibility; helping town centres and high streets adapt to a variety of local circumstances and market conditions. So if the office next door suddenly turns into a gym, bar or nightclub, what chance do you have?

The Noise Conundrum – What’s the problem?

As we know, the previous process provided some protection through change of use. It is not yet clear however, what measures local planning authorities may take in order to control such use of the amendment. In addition, consideration must also be given to the Agent of Change Principle part of the National Planning Policy Framework 2. This requires that the person introducing a change in land or building use is responsible for managing its impact Furthermore, individuals affected by noise disturbance may take legal action privately, in accordance with Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act.

We anticipate some planning authorities may require robust assessments of noise and vibration for new developments accommodating any of the uses which fall under Class E. This would be on the assumption that tenancies could operate with noise and vibration profiles typical of the highest uses under Class E. Others may leave it to the developer / professional team which may lead to future issues if not considered early.

All buildings have differing noise and vibration profiles and characteristics. Gymnasia, for example, produce significant levels of noise and vibration but are not particularly noise sensitive. Offices and libraries on the other hand, produce very little noise but are very noise sensitive.

Of course each project/development will have its own characteristics. We propose a simple five point test that will go some way to help identify a potential noise problem and ensure a plan is developed early in the design/development process to mitigate any effects:

  1. Establish the existing external background noise levels in the area.
  2. Ask whether the area subject to change offers a suitable acoustic environment for the new use.
  3. Understand how well the building subject to the change will contain noise.
  4. If not, what enhancements to the building’s sound insulation are necessary?
  5. Can the building accommodate the necessary noise and vibration enhancements?

This sounds complex but it needn’t be a lengthy or costly exercise. In our experience a site visit, followed by a brief desktop diligence exercise is sufficient to red flag any noise risks/constraints. We suggest the assessment requirements will help engender a dialogue with the planning authorities and, ultimately, allow the development to progress.

So if you are considering changing the use of a building/development or piece of land talk to us as early as possible to determine your noise mitigation road-map, and ensure project success.

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