Thursday, 24 June 2021

130 homes plan thrown out due to noise from RAF base

PLANS for 130 homes near RAF Benson have been thrown out.

A planning inspector has dismissed an appeal by a developer to build on land off St Helen’s Avenue, saying the noise from helicopters at the base would have a “significant adverse impact” on the quality of life of the residents of the new houses.

Benson Parish Council welcomed the decision, saying that if the development had been approved it could have undermined the village’s neighbourhood plan.

Gladman Developments had applied to develop the site to the west of the base, saying that 40 per cent of the homes would be “affordable”, in line with South Oxfordshire District Council’s requirements.

The company appealed when the council failed to make a decision on the application, prompting a public inquiry in front of inspector Cullum Parker last month.

The inquiry heard that the council believed the site was not suitable for development due to the “significant” noise from both the A4074 and the base, which is home to RAF Puma and Chinook helicopters as well as the National Police Air Service, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and some light aircraft. Hugh Flanagan, for the council, said this noise could not be fully mitigated, adding: “Forcing people to keep windows sealed shut for prolonged periods in a rural environment is obviously unsatisfactory.”

Alan Evans, for Gladman, told the inquiry that the noise could be “satisfactorily resolved by suitable mitigation measures”.

In his ruling, Mr Parker said: “I do not find that the noise from the A4074, which could be mitigated, would result in adverse impacts on living conditions.

“However, the noise from RAF Benson would clearly be very different.”

It would have an “unacceptable” impact on the living conditions of the future occupiers for which no mitigation had been suggested.

Mr Parker continued: “As acknowledged by the appellant, the appeal site is within a rural area where occupiers would be very likely to want to utilise both their gardens and also open windows.

“While it is clear that RAF Benson seeks to manage the disturbance caused to local residents by restricting night-time and daytime flights, this is as a matter of courtesy and there are no planning controls which restrict the operational hours of the base.

“The reality in practice is that future occupiers would want or wish to open their windows in fine weather, both during the day and night.

“When this occurs throughout the year and any given 24-hour period, occupiers would be subjected to noise levels which would give rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life.

“Not only would it intrude into the external living areas such as gardens, which would have no mitigation measures, but it would require future occupiers to close windows and rely upon passive ventilation whenever flights and training may occur during both the day and night.”

The inspector said he had visited the base and heard helicopters taking off and hovering, which caused “thudding and whooshing noises”.

He added: “The flight activity in this case also includes low frequency noise which, put simply, the various documents on noise indicate can be particularly irritating to humans.”

It was also “somewhat fanciful” for Gladman to suggest that residents should look on the RAF website for flight times and days of operation and plan their sleeping arrangements around these, or remember to close windows.

“The reality is that bedroom windows will be left open… and when this coincides with night-time training, future occupiers will be subject to noise which is very likely to disrupt sleep,” said Mr Parker.

“As a result, there is a strong likelihood that there would be complaints raised from future occupiers to curtail flights to and from RAF Benson.”

The site has not been included in Benson’s draft neighbourhood plan, which names sites to the north of the village for 320 new homes.

Jon Fowler, vice-chairman of the parish council, told the inquiry the plan would help deliver an “edge road”, or bypass, around the village but Gladman’s application could threaten this.

This week, he said: “Had that appeal gone through it would have seriously risked jeopardising our plan so it’s really great news that the inspector has dismissed it.

“It’s preposterous not to expect people to open windows.”

Gladman did not respond to a request for comment.

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