Section B - noise
Westminster is a noisy city within a global city. Road traffic, commercial trade, business and households share space, twenty-four hours a day. Ambient noise levels in the city exceed those of the rest of the UK and World Health Organisation guidelines. As a result, we received in 2019/20 more than 20,000 noise complaints with a further increase in 2020/21. These relate to:
- air conditioning/plant noise
- building sites
- deliveries and collections
- loud parties
- noise from licensed premises
- noisy pets
- residential noise
In Westminster, residential areas are mixed in with commercial areas and our expansive road network means that many properties are only a short distance from freight, transport and delivery. Unwanted sounds can disturb sleep, cause stress and affect the quality of life. Noise pollution also has wider impacts on sensitive biodiversity systems.
Acoustic design in the built environment is a key environmental consideration. In response to increased noise levels in the city the council has published alongside the draft City Plan a draft Noise Technical Guidance Note which sets out Noise Thresholds which should be adhered to for developments in the borough to comply with existing and emerging policy.
For further information see the government’s Planning Practice Guidance on Noise
Our noise technical guidance refers to the standards required for tranquil open spaces. From the royal parks to a rich variety of smaller spaces, Westminster has open spaces that perform many functions. Westminster’s approach to the value of these open spaces, reflects its commitment to understanding and trying to meet the complex needs of our communities. The Westminster Open Spaces Noise Study worked to understand the relationship of noise and tranquillity and what they mean to the community. The study identified and measured perceptions of tranquillity and found that there was considerable variance in perceptions of tranquillity.
Agent of Change principle
The Agent of Change concept is adopted in the London Plan policy D13 and is a key principle in Westminster’s City Plan. The principle requires that the mitigation for the impacts of noise (and other nuisances) is placed on the proposed new development rather than existing noise generating developments. This means that if a residential development is going to be located next to a restaurant, the responsibility for mitigating the impact of the noise for the development is with the new development, in this case the residential development. That is not to dismiss the restaurant operator from their responsibility to be a friendly neighbour, but the new development needs to take into account the existing noise generating activity. In Westminster, the agent of change principle is applied to all established noise generating activities and is important where adjacent buildings are changing use and noise and noise exposure will be increased as a result of that change.
Where a proposed development which requires planning permission may impact on noise sensitive land uses, a detailed Acoustic Report prepared by a competent Acoustic Consultant is required. The acoustic report must recognise that cultural venues, for example, can have high peak noise levels throughout the day and night on different days of the week – the noise characteristics of the existing uses must be properly captured and assessed.
The party introducing a new noise sensitive use, must identify and manage the impact of the new use, including where a more sensitive use is proposed. Any potential conflicts between noise sensitive uses and existing noise sources must be resolved at the planning stage.
Vibration is generally experienced through the floors of buildings and can be caused by machinery, for example lifts, activity within a building or activity nearby, such as building works. Ground borne vibration and structure borne noise can also arise from underground train lines (see the council’s noise technical guidance note, section 2.2). Depending on the magnitude, vibration can be detrimental to both the building and to the wellbeing of the people inside. Our standard for vibration is ‘Low probability of adverse comment’ standard of BS 6472 (2008).
In considering the noise impacts of the built environment there are clear crossovers with Sustainable transport, Air Quality and Green Infrastructure sections of this guidance, as well as Overheating. Interventions to address noise pollution can also bring ancillary benefits for other environmental issues such as thermal comfort and sustainable retrofit where used appropriately. This should all therefore be considered holistically and consistently across assessments submitted with planning applications.
Further overheating guidance
CIBSE TM59 - provides a ‘Design methodology for the assessment of overheating risk in homes’ using the data in CIBSE TM49 ‘Design Summer Years for London’
Acoustics ventilation and overheating. Residential Design Guidance (ANC) advises that overheating and external noise ingress should be considered at the same time i.e. if windows have to stay closed (to prevent ingress of external noise) then assessment of overheating should be made with windows closed – this will then require alternative ventilation schemes to prevent overheating.