Thursday, 13 November 2014

Noise nuisance and its impact on quality of life and health

Dani Fiumicelli - Technical Director

It is often perceived that the control of noise nuisance is an issue which sits outside the normal planning process. However, when considering new development (either noise generating or sensitive to noise) nuisance needs to be actively considered particularly as legal precedent means that there is no legal defence of claiming the noisy land use was there first. Therefore, the potential to cause noise nuisance by emitting noise or bringing receptors to an existing noise source are legitimate grounds to refuse planning permission.  In turn it follows that it is in the interests of developers of both noise generating and noise sensitive development to identify and minimise any risks to their schemes due to noise nuisance.

There is general agreement that nuisance is incapable of an exact quantified definition.  But this flexibility is a key strength for the legislation, as the core principles of nuisance can be applied to almost any situation. This enables a single legal concept and simple short legislative measures to apply to a wide range of situations and to be ready to tackle unforeseen and unforeseeable problems.


The negative side of nuisance is that there is no clearly defined means of measuring it. It is often said to be subjective and those accused of nuisance can feel aggrieved that they have no clearly defined simple benchmark, like a speed limit, that can be used to avoid being subject to legal action or having permission for a development withheld.  But in fact, whilst nuisance can be assessed qualitatively, it is an objective standard e.g. it only protects the ordinary reasonable use of land and those of normal sensitivity; it reflects the nature and character of a particular locality and minor infractions cannot be a nuisance. In presenting a nuisance case to a court, defending accusations of nuisance or appraising the risk that nuisance might arise, there is therefore a role for quantified measurable evidence. For example, to support the argument that the noise was likely to be having an effect that the ordinary person would find hard to tolerate; or, going the other way, to demonstrate that the noise was unlikely to have been intolerable to an ordinary person.

Noise sensitive receptors and future occupiers

As well as considering noise nuisance, planning policy means that developers of noise generating and noise sensitive development need to consider the impacts of noise from their scheme on the quality of life and health of existing noise sensitive receptors; and the impact of existing noise sources on the quality of life and health of future occupiers of their schemes.  The standard here is different to nuisance; and normally the standards applied for planning purposes will avoid nuisance. Analogous to nuisance, current noise and planning policy doesn’t provide any detailed decibel based noise limits; instead qualitatively defined concepts such as Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level and Significant Observed Adverse Effect Level apply. The means the practitioner has to carefully select and justify the guidelines and noise limits they use to assess a scheme on case by case basis.

Practical advice to resolve noise nuisance risks

Temple has a long history of dealing with noise nuisances including being technical advisers to the Government on nuisance policy and advising many local authorities and those accused of being responsible for nuisance in individual cases. Temple also has a comprehensive track record of advising developers on noise generating and noise sensitive development in order to secure planning permission or parliamentary approval of a scheme. This all puts Temple at the forefront when it comes to the translation of legislation and policy into clear and concise practical guidance and advice aimed at identifying ad minimising noise risks to a scheme.

For more information on Temple's Acoustics services, please contact Dani Fiumicelli at, alternatively contact Simon Perry at

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