Better with than without

An inspector has deleted a condition requiring a noise attenuation scheme for balconies at a development of flats near a busy thoroughfare, reasoning that flats with balconies provide better living conditions than flats without balconies (DCS Number 200-008-848).

The council argued that balconies should provide an acceptable living environment where they exist. The inspector cited British Standard 8233:2014 Guidance on sound insulation and noise reduction for buildings which recognises that the guideline values are not achievable in all circumstances where development might be desirable. In higher noise areas, such as city centres or urban areas adjoining the strategic transport network, a compromise between elevated noise levels and other factors, such as the convenience of living in these locations or making efficient use of land resources to ensure development needs can be met, might be warranted. He recorded that in such a situation the guidance advises that development should be designed to achieve the lowest practicable levels in external amenity spaces. The council’s case was that this criterion had not been met.

During his site visit the inspector sat on one of the upper floor balconies, remarking that noise from the traffic in the street below was noticeable, particularly as the vehicles bumped over speed tables. However, he did not accept that the balconies were unusable for relaxation, holding that they provided a reasonable level of amenity for a central urban location near a busy railway station where a certain level of noise is to be expected. Indeed, he considered that it was precisely one of those areas where the BS indicates that compromise is required.

The inspector continued that, despite noise being above the stipulated levels, those units with balconies provided a better standard of living than those without. The development gave its occupiers the choice as to whether or not to use their external amenity space, he reasoned, noting that it also provided convenient access to public open space adjacent to the blocks as an alternative. In this regard he recorded that PPG advice is that noise impacts may be partially offset if residents have access to a relatively quiet, protected, external publically accessible amenity space that is nearby.

The inspector determined that the disputed condition was too onerous, and was neither necessary nor reasonable to secure acceptable living conditions for occupiers of the flats. There were no practical measures that could be implemented within the scope of the condition, and not requiring planning permission in their own right, that would result in a noticeable reduction in noise levels on the balconies, he judged, and concluded that the disputed condition should be removed.

Traffic noise is covered at section 4.1613 of DCP Online.