Noisy neighbours

2nd October 2014

Eia noise

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Martin Broderick and Graham Parry outline new IEMA guidelines for noise and EIA

Most new developments, regardless of scale, will generate noise. Noise has the potential to affect people’s health and quality of life, property, such as historic buildings, and locations valued for their tranquility and wildlife.

While standards and guidance on addressing noise are readily available, none has been developed to assist with undertaking a noise impact assessment. Consequently, there is no guidance on how to undertake one.

The IEMA guidelines for noise environmental impact assessment, which were published on 6 October, are intended to fill this gap, and are the result of work carried out by a large group of acousticians over several years.

The guidelines set out good practice standards for the scope, content and methodology of noise impact assessments to facilitate greater transparency and consistency between assessments.

Noise and EIA

Noise impact assessment needs to be viewed in the context of the UK planning system and particularly the UK Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations. These implement the EIA Directive 2011/92/EU, which has recently been amended by Directive 2014/52/EU, but which has yet to be transposed into UK law.

The EIA process ensures that likely significant effects on the environment, including noise, are identified before the development is given consent. EIA provides a mechanism by which the interaction of environmental effects resulting from development can be predicted, allowing them to be avoided or reduced by influencing the project design and developing mitigation measures. As such, it is a critical part of the planning and decision-making process.

The EIA Directive refers to the need to consider effects across a range of factors, including population, human health, biodiversity and cultural heritage. Assessment needs to consider the likely significant positive and negative effects at all stages of the project.

This must cover all effects, whether they are direct or indirect, secondary, cumulative, short-, medium- or long-term, permanent or temporary. The assessment must also cover the measures envisaged to avoid or mitigate significant adverse effects. Developers also need to consider both intra- and inter-project cumulative impacts.

Noise is an important environmental effect, as most developments will generate noise during construction, operation, decommissioning and restoration. In the UK, most developments will be close to receptors that are sensitive to noise.

The effect on humans is usually the predominant consideration in assessing noise impacts. However, noise can also have a significant effect on wildlife, for example.

In the UK, EIA has been implemented through secondary legislation, which links into a number of other consent regimes. As a result, nearly two thirds of all assessments undertaken are related to applications for planning permission.

Since the EIA Regulations are mainly procedural, a failure to comply fully with the process can leave a development open to a legal challenge.

Policies and guidance

The planning system attempts to mediate between conflicting interests in the use and development of land. In the UK, planning and noise impact assessment take place in a complex, land use planning decision-making process. At a national level, each of the UK administrations has relevant policies and guidance:

  • England – the national planning policy framework (NPPF) sets out how policies should be applied across the country. Planning practice guidance is also available in England. It supports the NPPF and provides useful clarity on the practical application of policy.
  • Scotland – the national planning framework (NPF) sets the context for development.
  • Wales – planning policy Wales (PPW) sets out the policies of the Welsh government.
  • Northern Ireland – the draft strategic planning policy statement (SPPS) sets out the government’s regional planning policies.

Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with relevant development plans of the local planning authority unless “material considerations” indicate otherwise.

The NPPF, NPF, PPW and SPPS are such a consideration in planning decisions. In addition, planning policies and decisions must reflect and, where appropriate, promote relevant EU obligations and statutory requirements.

Where a development is deemed to be a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) – for which particular considerations apply in England and Wales – the policies are determined in accordance with the decision-making framework set out in the Planning Act 2008, as well as relevant national policy statements for major infrastructure.

Other matters that are considered important, and these may include the NPPF and PPW, are also relevant.

England, Scotland and Wales have their own noise policy, as well as guidance and advice documents.

  • The noise policy statement for England (NPSE), introduced in 2010, provides clarity on current policies and practices to enable noise management decisions to be made.
  • Planning advice note 1/2011, Planning and noise, explains the role of the planning system in Scotland in helping to prevent and limit the adverse effects of noise. The Scottish government has also published an advice note on the technical assessment of noise and aims to assist in assessing the significance of impact.
  • In Wales, technical advice note 11, Noise, provides advice on how the planning system can be used to minimise the adverse impact of noise without placing unreasonable restrictions on development.

There is currently no explicit technical advice document for noise in Northern Ireland.

IEMA guidance

Within this regulatory and planning context, the new IEMA guidelines define the key principles of noise impact assessment, in particular how it fits in the wider EIA process through: scoping of noise assessments; the issues to be considered when defining the baseline noise environment; prediction of changes in noise levels as a result of implementing development proposals; and evaluation of the significance of the effect of changes in noise levels.

The guidelines from IEMA are intended for a wide audience, not just environment practitioners, and include:

  • professionals who work in the field of acoustics and noise control;
  • regulators, including environmental health officers, members of the planning inspectorate, planners and others in local and national government and associated agencies;
  • developers and those responsible for contributing to and managing projects, such as architects, planners and engineers;
  • anyone interested in the outcome of noise impact assessments; and
  • academics and students.

They define the different noise impact assessment methods and techniques, outlining their limitations. The guidelines are applicable to all stages of a project, from construction and operation to decommissioning and restoration.

The principles in the guidelines are relevant to all types of project, including small developments, which do not require EIA; developments within the scope of the EIA Regulations 2011; NSIPs captured under the Infrastructure Planning (EIA) Regulations 2009 (amended); and other major infrastructure subject to, for example, hybrid parliamentary bills, the Transport and Works Act (the usual way of authorising a new railway or tramway scheme in England and Wales) or the EIA Decommissioning Regulations.

The guidelines are applicable in all parts of the UK and EU, although practitioners will need to factor in specific legislation, regulations, policy and advice relevant to the project when applying the principles, methods and techniques outlined.

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