Sound and noise assessments will continue across the UK despite the current lockdown situation meaning most people are working from home and access to many areas is restricted.
Joint Guidance on the Impact of COVID-19 on the practicality and reliability of baseline sound level surveying and the provision of sound and noise impact assessments has been published by the Association of Noise Consultants [ANC] and the Institute of Acoustics [IOA].
Their document states: ‘There will be a continuing requirement to maintain as far as possible the standard of our working practices, and also to maintain the flow of acoustic reporting which has an important role in the fabric and functioning of society.’
Acoustic reports are used to inform planning applications, the discharge of planning conditions and the implementation of Building Regulations.
The guidance says: ‘Continuing to provide high quality acoustic reporting in a timely manner for scrutiny by regulators and decision makers will allow the important aspects of planning to continue to move forward to support our society in the longer term beyond this national emergency. As the responsible bodies, the ANC and IOA are keen to ensure that it is ‘business as usual’, as far as is practicably possible and responsible.’
However, due to travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines, the organisations have identified appropriate changes to the way acoustic assessment and reporting is carried out to ensure significant delays in processing planning applications are averted.
Alternative methods of characterising baseline conditions may now be used and the organisations recognise that ‘acoustics professionals are skilled in understanding how best to use those techniques so that the outcome is representative and the conclusions drawn are technically robust, so that clients and decision-makers can come to well-informed judgements’.
In the absence of physical site visits, existing data from previous surveys and noise maps, for example, can be used to establish a robust estimate of baseline conditions. These can be supplemented by additional limited on-site sound level measurements, where permitted.
Mention of the levels of uncertainty in the circumstances should be included in the reporting.
Liaison with local authorities is recommended to determine appropriate methods to ensure robust reporting for each individual site to enable the planning process to continue.
For some projects there will be similar challenges when determining the sound levels associated with the development, says the guidance.
In some cases it will be feasible to visit a site – but atypical sound sources due to lockdown features should be noted.
For transport schemes, there will have to be a reliance on predicted sound levels to describe the baseline conditions, along with other relevant available data.
Where sound from existing facilities is needed to inform future noise levels, or where it is the existing sound that is being assessed, assessors have been told to establish whether or not the facility and neighbouring buildings are running as normal to determine any potential changes to sound emissions.
Cases relating to complaints will probably be postponed as an unrealistic picture would be painted from an examination in the current situation.
‘Projects should be assessed on a case by case basis,’ through the crisis, the ANC and IOA warned. ‘A pragmatic approach may be needed with regard to the information required for planning applications and/or the discharge of planning conditions. Having said that, it will continue to be important that such assessments remain robust, and follow current good practice.’
They also note that it might be the case that additional information will be required at a later date or planners attach conditions to an application in order to ‘maintain momentum in the planning system’ during this period.