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Academy’s Expansion Plans Trump Neighbours’ Noise Objections

In a country as heavily populated as Britain, planning decisions that benefit some will as often as not disadvantage others. In one case, the High Court paved the way for dramatic expansion of a school despite objections from local residents that noise during break times would make their lives a misery.

The Sikh faith school operated in what was formerly an office block. However, it only had 90 pupils and prior approval for its expansion to accommodate 840 children and 70 members of staff was required under permitted development rules.

That was refused by local planners and a government planning inspector dismissed an appeal brought by the Secretary of State for Education. The inspector found that increased noise created by the expanded school would have a significant adverse impact on the quality of life of residential neighbours in the semi-rural area.

The inspector’s recommendations were, however, rejected by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (the SoS) and prior approval was granted, subject to noise reduction conditions. He found that noise levels during breaks from class and lunch periods would be acceptable and not such as to diminish neighbours’ living conditions.

That decision was challenged by two local authorities. In upholding the approval, however, the Court rejected arguments that the SoS had failed properly to interpret World Health Organisation guidelines on the harmful impact that noise can have on people’s lives. The councils’ pleas that he had misapplied national planning policies and irrationally disagreed with the inspector’s conclusions in respect of technical noise evidence were also dismissed. The SoS had given adequate reasons for a decision in which no error of law could be detected.

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