Why Development Consent Orders mean more work ‘up front’ on noise mitigation

Dani Fiumicelli, Temple Group

The best advice when managing infrastructure development noise is be prepared early, says Temple Group's Dani Fuimicelli.

Development consent orders (DCOs) provide a process for making decisions on the development of major or nationally significant infrastructure projects. The system is intended to expedite decision-making on these large projects.

Applications under the orders are scrutinised by the major infrastructure planning unit. The unit advises the relevant minister and the minister then makes the final decision on whether the project should go ahead or not.

"The best advice appears to be ‘get your ducks lined up before you put in your application’."

National policy statements are important in the decision-making. They set out the policies by which decisions on infrastructure project should be made. 

So what's different about noise on the DCO process? As with other environmental issues, the infrastructure planning unit expects to have all the facts ready at the time of the application. This differs from the usual planning approach, where many of the issues can be dealt with at a later date as long as the principles of how they will be addressed are included in the application process. So for the DCO process there is more work ‘up front’ on noise mitigation.

There is a need to foresee what issues will arise so that you can put in data from monitoring and information on mitigation into the application itself.

The requirements mean that major projects going through the DCO process need to have the right scope to cover all of the things that might arise. This means that the information has to be ready early on. For example, the applicant will have to identify where people are likely to be receptors of noise and the noise levels that are likely to experience from construction and operation.

"There is no concept of the balance of the benefits of the development outweighing significant impacts."

Any significant effects remaining after mitigation will mean that planning shouldn’t be awarded. There is no concept of the balance of the benefits of the development outweighing significant impacts. The only exception to significant effects stopping the application may be if the project is within government infrastructure policy.

Noise decisions are informed in England by the Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE). The core requirements of this are:

  • where possible, the environment should be improved
  • any adverse effects should be minimised and mitigated
  • significant impacts on the quality of life need to be avoided

One of the things that has yet to be defined is how far mitigation needs to be taken to minimise adverse effects. The NPSE qualifies its requirements to what can be achieved within “government policy on sustainable development” thereby providing a lower limit. But what constitutes this lower limit is likely to vary between proposals.   

As the DCO process becomes more established, it will become clearer how noise and the nuisance arising from it is dealt with.

At present, the best advice appears to be ‘get your ducks lined up before you put in your application’ and ensure its accompanied by a comprehensive baseline data set, robust predictions of construction and operational noise conditions, a credible impact assessment and identification of detailed mitigation proposals where adverse and significant impacts are identified.

Dani Fuimicelli is techincal director – acoustics at Temple Group