Balancing Noise Nuisance Against the Needs of Industry - High Court Ruling

Industrial processes can be noisy and those responsible for them frequently worry that complaints from neighbouring residents will affect their businesses. However, as a High Court case showed, such concerns and the needs of commerce in general do carry substantial weight in the planning regime.

A building materials company operated a quarry and an asphalt plant a short way away from a stone barn that had been converted for residential use in breach of planning control. Despite the company's objections, the owner of the barn later succeeded in regularising the position by obtaining planning consent for the conversion from the local authority.

The company did not dispute that the asphalt plant, which has permission to operate 24 hours a day, generates considerable noise. The barn owner's own acoustics expert reported that the property was significantly adversely affected by noise and recommended as a minimum that it be fitted with a continuous mechanical ventilation system so that windows could be kept shut. However, the sole noise prevention condition attached to the planning consent was a requirement that trickle vents in certain bedroom windows be removed or blocked.

In overturning the planning permission, the Court found that council officers had failed to address the policy requirement that noise levels within residential properties should not exceed the threshold at which significant effects on health and quality of life can be expected to occur. The barn owner had no desire to install mechanical ventilation, but it was insufficient for officers to say that the noise issue could be dealt with simply by keeping windows closed.

The minerals permission in respect of the quarry was due to be reviewed in 2025 and the company was concerned that complaints from residents of the barn might affect that process. There was also the risk that onerous conditions as to opening hours or noise levels might be imposed on the asphalt plant in the future. In those circumstances, the Court found that no adequate consideration had been given to the impact of the planning permission on the company's business.