Planning for Noise is Child’s Play

Planning for Noise is Child’s Play

noisy children

Planning for Noisy Children

We regularly receive enquiries citing concerns about childrens’ play areas and noisy children; including outdoor sports areas, playgrounds and, even, nurseries. ‘The sound of from children playing – what could be so terrible about that?’ you may ask. Well, nothing in itself, but if a well-meaning local Councillor decided that a skate-park should be built next to your garden or if you were to be subject to the cries of up to 50 babies and toddlers from the nursery next door all day, you’d be naïve to think that it could not impact in some way on your home life.

Most complaints are initiated by a change in circumstances, a change in land use or, perhaps, the installation of new equipment. The first step in planning any change in land use or development is to ensure that it is located in a suitable location; after which the changes made need to be designed in such a way that minimises the chances of negative impacts to neighbours. It’s orientation, size, capacity and any measures to mitigate noise should be thought about at the design stage; not forgetting  detail about how is to be supervised, staffed or maintained. In many cases the distance between such facilities and noise-sensitive premises has not provided adequate separation. The level of technicality in any noise assessment depends upon the nature and scale of the development.

MUGAs and Noise

Whilst the use of ‘organised’ (often privately run) sports facilities can be limited by times of operation many public access games areas or childrens’ playgrounds are open throughout the day and, sometimes, at night when crime and anti-social behaviour can be a significant issue. “Multi-use Games Areas” (MUGAs) have been a popular addition alongside new developments or to support areas with high levels of social housing and promote healthy living. However, such facilities present, (sometimes insurmountable) problems associated with noise, opening hours and lighting. Sound barriers, as a last resort, are also often impractical due to security concerns and ease of access. Amongst other considerations distance is key.

Pubs and Play Areas

There is a growing trend for (sometimes extensive) play equipment to be installed in pub gardens in order to attract families. Any opportunity for increasing sales of food and drink is important in this sector; who often benefit over restaurants by having access to larger outdoor dining areas. Pub companies can sometimes overlook the consequences of installing playgrounds near to neighbouring residential properties; where they can be used every day throughout the summer and often until late into the evening. Many fail to apply for the required planning permission.

Noise and Nurseries

In the 2000’s there was a large increase in the number of private childcare establishments that gained planning permission. The boom in the sector supported a rapidly growing demand for spaces. Unfortunately, some were not well situated; being located, for example, in terraced houses or next to noise sensitive properties. The opportunity for highlighting concerns about noise is at the planning stage when unreasonable changes can be prevented; after which the problem becomes more difficult to control. Unlike schools nurseries tend to operate all year round without the respite provided by holidays. Nurseries also tend to have much smaller outdoor areas that are used at different times by different age-groups of children from anytime up to 6pm.

Careful Planning is Key to Tolerance

It would be easy to suggest that a growth in such complaints is an indication that we are becoming a less tolerant society. Not necessarily. Our population has grown by 10 million in the last few decades; and we are increasingly living in more densely populated spaces. If we are to maintain healthy lifestyles, have sufficient access to childcare facilities and ensure that businesses are able to compete, there will continue to be a demand for such facilities. The above examples demonstrate though, once again, that good planning and design must underpin any proposed change in use.

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