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ProPG The Latest Guidance for Acoustic Consultants

Posted in Acoustic Consultants News on Jul 06, 2018

Taking into account how noise and its associated problems can affect communities is an essential aspect of the planning process and one that many planning professionals - on both the local authority side and the development side - are wholeheartedly committed to.

But government changes to the policy framework in recent years have made this harder, and it's only recently that the industry has been able to provide professionals with the guidance they desperately need. In this article, we'll take a look at what's changed.

What happened to the old guidance?

Back in 2012, the planning industry suffered a setback when the government's new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced. The changes caused by the NPPF meant that a crucial piece of Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) for planning professionals, known as PPG 24 (Planning and Noise), was repealed - and, crucially, not replaced.

Noise is, obviously, still a very big deal in the planning process, and it affects all kinds of stakeholders from local residents to managers responsible for the social aspect of the project. Paragraph 123 of the NPPF even explicitly says this, and claims that decisions should "avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development".

The decision to remove the technical guidance from the policy framework, then, was a big blow, and this change in policy caused problems. Because PPG 24 was not replaced but the requirements in Paragraph 123 remained, it meant that the obligations were still there but the technical guidance was not. In other words, it was now solely down to the industry itself to work out how to properly incorporate consideration of noise issues into the planning process.

Hopes were raised in some quarters in 2014 when the government decided to produce and unveil a Planning Practice Guidance document for noise. However, this PPG did not tackle the underlying problem, which was that repeal of the original document meant that there was no longer any technical guidance available.

Acoustic consultants and the planners they work with were then left stumped - because while all parties involved wanted to protect local communities from the adverse consequences of noise pollution, the technical know-how needed to get this job done to a high standard was simply no longer readily available.

What's next for acoustic consultants?

Given that the sectors involved needed to act unilaterally rather than rely on central government to help them, a number of industry bodies worked together to develop a technical guidance system designed to give professionals in the field a place to start when it came to judging the effect that noise may have on their plans.

The work has been done by a series of groups, including the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC for short) as well as the Institute of Acoustics (IOA) and the Chartered Institute of Environment Health (CIEH).

Known as the Professional Practice Guidance on Planning & Noise, or "ProPG" for short, the work is aimed at both the teams of developers building new projects and also those working in local government planning departments.

The guidance, which is available here, takes a number of steps towards making it easier for noise to be taken into account during the planning process.

In order to provide users with a concise and clear way to incorporate technical considerations around noise pollution into their considerations, the guidance suggests that professionals split the process into two stages.

The first stage should focus on a noise risk assessment at the site in question to kick off the process. The second stage, meanwhile, is designed to offer an opportunity to go into further detail by looking at specific points like internal noise levels, a noise assessment of the external amenity area and also how well the design process would incorporate acoustics.

In addition, it also provides specific quantitative standards for a number of relevant metrics, such as internal LAeq target levels - a move which will be vital to many planning professionals.

Ultimately, the new guidance will make it easier for those who work in development or planning to take decisions in the best interests of all parties, and this will ultimately benefit communities, residents and the wider public from the unwanted and problematic effects that excessive noise can have.

As the ProPG document states: "It is imperative that acoustic design is considered at an early stage of the development process". Now, after years in the wilderness without government help, that looks a lot easier to achieve.

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