It is time to level up the Agent of Change principle so that its objective is actually realised
The Agent of Change principle has been with us for some years now, dutifully enshrined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The principle seeks to protect existing and lawful noise generating operations from proposals for new noise-sensitive developments, particularly residential accommodation, but is it really having a meaningful effect?
As planners who specialise in the Hospitality & Leisure sector, my team and I represent some of the UK’s leading and largest operators of late night licensed premises, including Stonegate Pub Group, Revolution Bars, Simmons Bars, Rekom and Nightcap, as well as numerous independent operators.
The experience of these national operators in the past few years suggests that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) still have no meaningful grasp of the concept and rather naively rely on the conditional grant of planning permission for new residential development to protect against any impact from existing adjoining noise-generating late night licensed operations. Applying conditions that require new development to provide noise attenuation construction works to meet British Standards, or even bespoke standards to a particular location, are the theoretical tool for protecting future residents from the impact of existing, lawful noise generation. However, unless the actual construction of new build is closely monitored and controlled, there is the opportunity for developers cutting corners to reduce their build cost by omitting some of the construction requirements that do not add meaningful value to the sale price of new properties.
Our experienced clients are regularly questioned by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) in the wake of the Agent of Change principle .These are EHOs that have been consulted upon and approved noise attenuation works in the new builds, but seemingly have not formally checked if the works have actually been undertaken during construction. This is where the process moves into the realms of Building Control and the approval of that regime can be issued online by organisations who simply assess the construction plans, rather than monitor site works in person.
There have been recent incidents where new residential development has been assessed in person by experienced acoustic consultants appointed by our clients and investigations have demonstrated that approved noise attenuation works have not been implemented at construction stage, leading to sub-standard accommodation and ultimately complaints by new residents to established licensed venues.
Providing additional residential accommodation in appropriate locations should be welcomed. However, a random distribution of noise sensitive accommodation throughout an existing city centre containing important, historic and long-established late-night bars and entertainment uses can add to tensions and could result in these entertainment activities being curtailed in the future through statutory nuisance action and enforcement, in the form of Noise Abatement Notices.
Late night entertainment and noise-sensitive uses should be located and designed to minimise tensions and the risk of entertainment activities being curtailed in the future. Construction works have to be closely monitored and post-development noise assessments must be a pre-requisite where necessary to prevent future issues. The Agent of Change principle is currently not having sufficient practical success to be considered having any meaningful effect.
The House of Lords liaison Committee published The Licensing Act 2003: post-legislative scrutiny Follow-up Report on 11 July. It recommends that the ‘Agent of Change’ principle should be adopted into the section 182 Guidance (this being the revised guidance issued under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003) to ensure licensing guidance reflects the National Planning Policy Framework. Further to this the Government should review and strengthen the ‘Agent of Change’ principle and consider incorporating it into current planning reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. It is time to level up the Agent of Change principle so that its objective is actually realised.