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  • Samantha Hathway

BS 4142 Widens its Scope....

Acoustics in the Future

Now in effect, the updated British Standard (BS) 4142 guidelines that determine potential noise impacts on residential areas have been updated and extended to explicitly cover more situations. Widely used by local authorities across the UK, and enforced by planning and environmental health officers, BS 4142 is already becoming a basic requirement of future development proposals as well as a starting point for examining the noise impact of existing assets.

Historically, these guidelines were intended to cover industrial plant, including fixed machinery such as generators, chillers, and fans, as well as associated noise emanating from industrial premises. This has been extended to more explicitly cover servicing and deliveries, and as such non-industrial premises including shops, hotels, and offices, will now fall within its reach.

But while it has been expanded to consider more elements that may generate noise and the criteria for adverse impacts are relatively clear, the assessment criterion for ‘low impact’ noise has arguably become open to interpretation and could be more relaxed than the previous standard.

The standard is not designed to assess the likelihood of noise nuisance, only the noise impact. The distinction between the two is important, as an adverse noise impact does not necessarily guarantee complaints, and equally a complaint does not always verify an adverse noise impact. There is however, a danger that this more open definition of a ‘low impact’ could lead to legal squabbles, pitting one consultant’s view against another’s.

The new methodology gives greater scope to the assessor – whether it’s a consultant or environmental health officer – to quantify the noise impact in the context of each particular environment, so assessment results could vary significantly depending on an individual’s outlook and experience.

"So what will be affected? Industrial sites often involve noisy processes, servicing and deliveries, and noisy external plant, but deliveries and plant also apply to offices and retail sites – from shopping centres to convenience stores."

However, these changes are likely to affect locations outside of Central London more, as local planning authorities’ standards within London boroughs are already more onerous than the new standard, especially due to the greater levels of commercial development in close proximity to high-density, high-end residential areas – take Westminster as an example.

The greater potential for discussions around noise impact, combined with the relaxed criteria, make the new standard more aligned with the National Planning Policy Framework and its support for sustainable development. This brings with it the possibility that higher levels of noise may be acceptable in certain circumstances, if supporting a specific purpose or wider benefit.

The revised document was made publically available towards the end of 2014 and began to bed-in during 2015. There still remains some ambiguity on the best approach to take, but some local authorities are already beginning to adopt the updated standards.

It makes sense to consult auricl about how these changes can be incorporated into ongoing portfolio management and new development pipelines.

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