R (oao) Gilbert v SSCLG (Court of Appeal, 3 March) is a case about noise from vehicles using the former World War II airfield at Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire.  It is a 250 ha site with a wide 2 mile long runway.  It has a long history of consented use as a proving and testing ground for motor vehicles, including some of the UK’s most famous and specialist marques.  After a successful appeal against a noise abatement notice in 2007, the Secretary of State granted a temporary planning permission for additional uses, subject to a package of conditions to address noise impacts.  Upon application to remove the time-limit condition and make the permission permanent, the Secretary of State made a negative screening opinion, and decided that an environmental impact assessment was not required.  The Claimant challenged that decision and the grant of the permanent permission, alleging that the package of noise controls was ineffective and that cumulative effects were not assessed.

The claim was dismissed by Supperstone J; [2014] EWHC 1952.  Sullivan LJ gave permission to appeal.  The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the same basis as the judge.  The real question was whether or not the development would be likely to give rise to significant environmental effects and whether that conclusion was lawfully reached.  The difficulty of distinguishing particular noise sources when measuring compliance with a community noise limit did not vitiate that conclusion.  Exceeding a 40dB limit did not necessarily equate to a significant effect and in any event the Secretary of State was entitled to have regard to the fact there had been only one identified breach in two years.

The upshot of these proceedings is that, after eight years of litigation, the cumulative effects of vehicular use at the site have been held to be: not a statutory nuisance, acceptable in planning terms and not likely to have significant effects on the environment.

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