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Commercial operations frequently encounter noise complaints from neighbours and that can create a powerful barrier to development. However, in one case, the fierce objections of local residents did not deter the High Court from upholding planning permission for improvement and intensified use of a motor racing circuit.
The circuit, located in a rural area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), had been operating for over 50 years. It had long been the target of noise complaints and the local authority had in the past served noise abatement notices. Motorsport race days had for some years been limited by a planning condition to 52 days a year.
The case concerned the council's grant of planning consent for a major improvement to the circuit's facilities. Most controversially, the consent permitted the circuit's use all the year round. In addition to the existing 52 motorsport days, such activities as car testing, emergency incident training, cycle racing and driving lessons were permitted on other days of the year.
The council reached its decision on the basis of a planning officer's report which cited the investment and employment benefits of the project as an exceptional circumstance warranting major development in the AONB. The report noted that conditions attached to the consent would require improved management of the circuit, including a more stringent noise monitoring regime.
In dismissing a local objector's judicial review challenge to the permission, the Court rejected arguments that the council erred in treating existing noise levels at the circuit – which were said to amount to a statutory nuisance – as a fall-back position against which to judge the level of harm the development would cause.
The officer's report set out in extensive detail its conclusion that improved management controls and monitoring, combined with decibel limits, meant there would be no increase in the noise impact on local residents. Arguments that the council failed to give adequate reasons for its decision, and that no regard was had to residents' human right to respect for their homes and family lives, also fell on fallow ground.