Noise is a blight on people’s lives and is an important consideration in many planning decisions. In opening the way for improvement and intensified use of a motor racing circuit, however, the High Court found that residents’ concerns about disturbance of their peace had been properly weighed in the balance.
Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), the circuit had been in use for more than half a century. It had long been the target of complaints from residents, prompting the local authority to serve abatement notices on the basis that the noise amounted to a statutory nuisance. Under an existing planning consent, motorsport race days at the circuit were subject to maximum decibel limits and restricted to 52 days a year.
A woman living nearby mounted a judicial review challenge to the council’s decision to grant a fresh planning permission, authorising multi-million-pound improvements to the circuit’s facilities. Most controversially, the permission allowed potentially year-round use of the circuit: in addition to the existing 52 motorsport days, use was permitted on 104 days a year for quieter activities such as car testing and driver training. Other uses, including emergency incident training, cycle racing and driving lessons, were permitted on the remaining days of the year.
Upholding the permission, however, the Court found no flaw in a planning officer’s report which recommended approval of the proposals, citing their economic benefits. Noting that conditions attached to the permission would require improved management of the circuit, including a more stringent noise monitoring regime, the officer’s report stated that the development would not exacerbate existing noise impacts or cause additional harm to neighbours’ living conditions.
The Court rejected arguments that the council erred in treating existing noise levels at the circuit as a fall-back position against which to judge the planning application. Adequate reasons were given for the decision and the impact of the development on the AONB was considered in detail. Proper regard was also had to the human right of residents to respect for their homes and family lives.