News & Views
20 May 2021

Why noise impact assessments
are for everyone:
However big your project, noise matters

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), one in five Europeans are exposed to harmful levels of noise pollution, with road traffic the biggest culprit. This could not only cause physical and mental illness for residents, it also affects wildlife too. Because of this link, KP Acoustics explains the importance of noise impact assessments no matter how big or small your project is.

 Noise impact assessments are a detailed noise survey which are a fundamental requirement for planning applications. Local authorities use these to ensure your project won’t produce harmful or nuisance noise levels for local residents, businesses and wildlife. The process requires an acoustic consultant to visit site, carry out the inspection and produce a report on the predicted levels of impact the project will have on the existing noise climate.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this level of assessment is reserved for the large-scale projects only, such as a new racing hub or shooting range. In reality, noise impact assessments are required of small projects too, such as installing a new air conditioning unit in the garden. Noise does not discriminate, and neither do the regulations.

Wherever your project is on the spectrum, a noise impact assessment will make getting that all-important planning permission easier. Of course, a noise impact assessment is a prediction of the impact, not the actual impact. While the findings of the reports are generally regarded as accurate and valid, technology is instilling more confidence into the surveys, using more intelligent prediction, simulation and monitoring.

New ideas from general noise monitoring are being brought into noise impact assessments too. For example, dispersed noise sensor technology across cities could give local authorities a real time view of noise profiles. This means councils can ensure the parameters laid out in the noise impact assessment are adhered to with a quick glance at a computer screen, and take action if they are not.

Immersive virtual reality and noise assessment

As well as sensor technology, the combination of virtual reality (VR) technology and audio rendering techniques are being trialled in a novel approach to environmental noise assessment. In one study, the audio-visual impact of a proposed motorway project was assessed on people, using 3D immersive simulations. The control group experienced the VR-generated actual landscape without a motorway, while the experimental group was exposed to a simulation of the projected motorway.

The results indicated effects on the short-term memory of the participants, with heightened effects the closer they were to the motorway. Pivotally, it showed that multisensory VR methodologies can be used to study environmental impact. Could future studies like this give a more accurate picture to the effects of projects on people? Perhaps.

For the smaller scale projects, such as installing a new air conditioning unit in someone’s back garden, maybe this seems like over-kill. But what we can foresee is technology will play an increased role in small scale projects too, particularly from a long-term noise monitoring perspective. Future plug-and-play noise monitoring devices will empower even those carrying out small projects to assess the noise around them, and see if noise levels are reaching parameters that could negatively affect their wellbeing.

So, while one in five Europeans are exposed to harmful levels of noise pollution, technology could improve insight into how noise sources are affecting people in the long-term. Not only that, but new technology could also instil more confidence into noise impact reports, closing the gap between predicted noise impact and actual noise impact.

So, what do you think? Does virtual reality and immersive sound have a place in noise impact assessments?

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