Noise problems

Noise and Planning

Noise can have a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of local residents. This can range from general annoyance, irritability and/or sleep disturbance of an individual to serious and long lasting disturbance affecting large parts of the community.

Where a noise complaint is received the Environmental Health Service has a duty to investigate under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance this could result in a legal notice being served and possible prosecution if the matter is not resolved. The service has a wealth of experience in investigating complaints, finding solutions to problems and knowing what will cause nuisance to people within the district.

Environmental Health acts as a consultee to the Planning Department, giving them advice and recommendations to help them make a decision on the suitability of a development. Our aim is to prevent complaints being received based on experience and through the application of national planning and noise guidance standards.

When to consider noise?

Noise needs to be considered when a new development may introduce noise in to an existing area containing residential properties or other noise sensitive receptors or when new developments would be sensitive to the existing noise environment such as being close to a major road or existing factory. As well as the development we will also consider noise impact from the construction stage.

Noise sensitive receptors are typically houses and gardens, schools, hospitals and possibly commercial premises depending on the activities undertaken there, such as residential care homes or offices.

If you think your proposal may have a noise impact, or be affected by existing noise, you can contact Environmental Health’s Residential Services Team for further advice. A general ‘rule of thumb’ to apply is that if noise will now be heard by local residents and it previously wasn’t, it needs to be taken into consideration.

It is often more cost effective to consider noise at the planning stage and design out any potential noise problems before they arise. If properly considered a noise issue can be resolved saving time and money, and enable a new development or business to have a better profile within the local community.

Before you submit your planning application Environmental health may be able to advise you on options to reduce noise such as:

  • avoiding certain locations
  • optimising the distance of structures - between source and receiver
  • amending the hours of use, changing your layout or redesigning the development to reduce the impact of noise
  • changing or adapting machinery
  • using barriers or screening
  • optimising the sound insulation within the building envelope or acoustic treatments.

The team can also advise you of historic problems within the area including previous noise complaints that have been received. These changes to an application may remove the need to carry out a noise assessment. However for situations where, in order to fully assess the impact and/or suitability of a development additional information is required, a formal noise assessment carried out by a competent person will be requested.

When is a noise assessment required?

If the proposed development presents the likelihood that adverse noise may affect local residents or is likely to contravene recommended noise guidance, a noise assessment will be required. This allows us to quantify the impact, decide whether any further mitigation or controls can be applied and determine overall suitability of the development on noise grounds.

Typical developments that need a noise assessment are those that can affect residential housing. For example - food premises with mechanical extract ventilation, commercial or industrial units incorporating fans, generators or condenser units, 24 hour use, music and crowd noise from public houses or marquees.

The amount of information you will need to provide will depend on the nature of the proposal and its potential impact.

The subjective nature of noise means that there is not always a simple relationship between noise levels and impact, and it will often depend on how various factors combine together in any particular situation.

For example:

  • the noise source, its level and the time of day it occurs: for some noise the type and level may cause greater effect at night than during the day - music noise and 24 hour working
  • the number of noise events, frequency and pattern of occurrences: ten deliveries during a day may cause more impact than one delivery
  • the spectral content of the noise: - low or high frequencies and tonal characteristics - fan noise tends to have low frequency noise content which is very hard to reduce, will be heard over longer distances and through structures
  • the general character of the noise: an erratic sounding noise will catch people’s attention and be more annoying more than something which is continuous. In some assessments this type of noise is given a 5dB penalty
  • cumulative impacts of noise from more than one source: the introduction of another equal noise source will add an additional 3dB to the overall noise level which may change how it is perceived 4
  • the existing background noise levels: city or town environments have higher background levels due to traffic noise which would mask other noise. This would be missing in rural environments. The greater a noise stands out against the background the more likely it will cause a nuisance
  • existing noise acceptability criteria or other noise control regulations such as the licensing regime
  • the existing class use of land or land in the vicinity and what could reasonably be expected.

Where the applicant is required to produce a noise assessment this guidance should be followed to ensure that the report provides sufficient information in order for this Service to be able to fully understand the noise and quantify its impact. As noise is a complex technical issue, any information submitted must be determined by a competent person and it may be necessary to employ an acoustic consultant.

You need to submit the report in plenty of time to allow this service to assess its findings and carry out its own measurements if necessary. Reports submitted last minute may lead to the planning application being deferred.

Environmental Health cannot carry out the assessment itself. We have to remain impartial and act as a consultee for the planning authority in order to make an objective assessment of an application.

Identifying the background noise environment

Before a decision can be made on the likely impact of a development, it will be necessary to have a full understanding of the existing outdoor noise environment within that area. An applicant may be asked to include a background noise survey which should identify:

  • the existing background noise environment of the area into which the development is proposed. This should be determined by measuring sound in LA90, LAeq and LA10 measurement modes over a representative time period and at times/days when the development wishes to operate
  • any existing local noise sources present during the assessment such as passing trains, building noise
  • where and what type of sensitive receptors are likely to be affected - position of local residents.

* LA90 is the ‘A’ weighted noise level exceeded for 90% of the measurement period. This is normally referred to as the ‘background noise level’ if it relates to a period when the noise source is not operational.

LA10 is the ‘A’ weighted noise level for 10% and identifies ‘peak noise levels’ which occur for a short limited period of time.

LAeq is an average noise level over the measurement period and relates well with human hearing and annoyance. DB. is the decibel level - a unit used to measure the intensity of sound.

Noise measurements can be influenced by weather conditions and should be carried out on days without strong winds or rain. The microphone of the sound level meter should be fitted with a windshield and details of weather conditions should be given in the report, including wind direction. Where traffic noise is concerned, road surfaces should be dry.

Noise assessments - what to include

The report submitted should set out all the required information in a format which is logical and understandable. It should include:

  • an introduction to the proposal, proposed noise sources and operational activity
  • details of the consultant and qualifications, measurement and calibration of equipment used, dates and time noise readings were taken and weather conditions
  • a scale map of the development, location of noise sources, where readings were taken and location/distance to nearby noise sensitive receptors
  • detail of the types of noise that the proposal will create including a description of the activity, associated operations, noise output levels (ideally as provided by the manufacturer), and noise character (such as tonal, impulsivity), its duration, frequency and the time the day the noise will likely to be generated
  • background noise assessment for the area
  • a determination of the impact that the proposed noise will have against the existing noise environment at the nearest noise sensitive premises, looking at both external and internal impact as necessary
  • any acceptability criteria agreed with Environmental Health
  • any noise reduction measures or controls to be used or proposed and likely reduction in noise levels or impact
  • a conclusion and/or recommendations.

Noise sources - what to consider

A detailed knowledge of the noise source(s) and operation is essential. This is because noise levels are often of less importance than the amount by which they exceed the existing background noise and the times and days of operation. Some noise sources may stop/start, or may change their operation or intensity at certain times of day or night. Manufacturers can generally provide sound power levels for most machinery. To fully understand the impact it is essential to determine all the possible working circumstances and what equipment will be working together. Noise from similar equipment elsewhere could be measured.

Other considerations - odour abatement

If the proposed development has the potential to release odour and is in close proximity to residential or other commercial premises Environmental Health would usually require that a scheme is submitted giving details of ventilation and extraction. This should include the method of treatment to remove odour, particles or droplets and discharge points, details of noise levels generated and any noise attenuation to be incorporated.

Odour abatement technology can affect existing noise levels or create new types of noise and so should be considered together at the initial stages.

Sources of guidance and help

Institute of Acoustics
77A St Peter’s Street
St. Albans
01727 848195
[email protected]

For further advice or to arrange a pre planning consultation meeting please contact:

Environmental Health Services
Civic Centre
Stone Cross
Rotary Way

01609 779977
[email protected]

Report it

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Further information

You can contact our Environmental Health team on 01609 767138 or download this information as a leaflet: