Noise and how to prevent it

Effective use of the planning regulations can prevent irritation and ill health caused by undesired sounds.

This content applies to England & Wales

Definition of noise

Noise can take many forms, for example, rowdy parties, barking dogs, disruptive neighbours and persistent car alarms. The effect on those exposed to the noise can range from minor irritation, to disputes with neighbours, to significant ill health.

A straightforward definition of noise is 'sound which is undesired by the recipient'.[1] This definition requires three conditions. There must be:

  • a source of sound

  • a transmission path (ie the route that the noise takes)

  • a receiver who has, or would have, an adverse reaction to the sound

The last condition can cause disagreement, as it is a subjective assessment. What may be noise (and a cause of irritation) to one person may simply be sound (and a source of pleasure) to another.

Planning regulations to prevent noise nuisance

Effective use and implementation of the planning regulations can prevent noise nuisance arising.

The construction or alteration of a property, whether residential or commercial, for example the conversion of a house into flats, usually requires planning permission from the local council.[2] When dealing with the application, the council is legally obliged to consult with people living in the vicinity of the property.[3] Subsequently, when making a decision whether to grant planning permission, it must take account of the responses of local people[4] and the noise impact of the application on the character locality.[5]

Some decisions, usually major ones, are delegated to a committee made up of local councillors. People living in the vicinity do not have the right to speak at the committee meeting, although many councils allow it as a matter of good practice. If a planning application is agreed by the council (whether at a committee meeting or by council officers), objectors to the application do not have the right of appeal. They may, however, have the right to seek judicial review of the way in which the decision to grant planning permission was made.

If a planning application is refused by the council, the applicant does have the right of appeal.[6]

Noise abatement zones

A council may designate part or all of its area a noise abatement zone.[7] Following designation, the council must measure the noise coming from specified types of premises, and record these measurements in a register, which is open to the public.[8]

Exceeding the registered level without consent is an offence.[9] The council can also order that the noise level is to be reduced, if it is practicable to do so at a reasonable cost, and would give a public benefit.[10] However, few noise abatement zones have been established.

Last updated: 26 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    Wilson Committee on the Problem of Noise 1963.

  • [2]

    ss.55-57 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

  • [3]

    article 8, Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995.

  • [4]

    s.71 Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as amended by s.16(2) Planning and Compensation Act 1991.

  • [5]

    Planning Practice Guidance: Noise, available on the Planning Practice Guidance website.

  • [6]

    s.78 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

  • [7]

    s.63 and Sch.1 Control of Pollution Act 1974.

  • [8]

    s.64 Control of Pollution Act 1974.

  • [9]

    s.65(5) Control of Pollution Act 1974.

  • [10]

    s.66(1) Control of Pollution Act 1974.