Please can I open the window?
I'd better start by saying that in broad terms I am very strongly behind "robust" planning laws, and I think that the Tory suggestions of watering these down are ikely to lead to towns and cities that we don't want to live in or much look at. Likewise, inconvenient as it may be to have the Building Inspector round, I have no doubt the Building Regs are a good thing . . . if they only catch the occasional rogue contractor skimping on the foundations, that has to be worthwhile. (And I should point out that they are no new idea; they go back at least to the emperor Nero after the fire of Rome.)
My complaint is only a little one: I dont see why it couldn't be up to me to decide, if I live near a road, whether I want to have double glazing or windows that will open for a bit of "fresh" air.
Let me explain my situation. We live on one of the main roads leading out of Cambridge. But our house, like the others nearby is set quite a way back from the highway, behind a substantial hedge and trees; and opposite us there are no houses lining the street, but a large college playing field which seems to encourage the noise to escape. We have secondary glazing in one room on the ground floor, which was here when we arrived, and we don't notice the traffic -- which isn't very great in the evening or at night anyway. And there is no suggestion that air pollution levels are high.
Anyway, one of our neighbours just put in a planning application for a very nice extension, which got permission without trouble and will make a definite improvement to the house. It was what the planning officials (environmental health branch) said about the noise, and the logic lying behind their remarks (all published on their website), that made me see red.
The plans, they correctly pointed out, envisaged habitable rooms on the side of the house facing the road. And how noisy was that going to be? Well, they didn't actually have any decibel readings from our street, but they did have them from some other streets in town and those readings suggested that the noise levels here might be too high to accord with the relevant British Standard for noise pollution. They conceded that there were differences: the other roads have houses 3 metres from the traffic, whereas this house is 18 metres from the traffic "which will reduce the noise exposure on future occupants". So they proceeded to do a calculation based on the same traffic level, factored down by the extra 15 metres distance from the road -- and hey presto the noise levels were still above the British Standard limits.
The next concession was to stress again that the noise level might not anyway be the same on our road as on those from which they had the measurements. But just to cover themselves they suggested, on no more than a guess so far as I could see (and one not backed up by my own experience), that the noise levels here might actually be greater....
And the recommendation? That it should be a condition of the development that there should be "acoustic glazing" in the habitable rooms on the road side. But, hang on, there's also got to be ventilation for when it's too hot. Yes, they conceded again, these rooms will need a mechanical ventilation system with a booster fan, which will of course add to the decibels... so that will all have to be taken to into account, when trying to get down to the required noise levels.
OK. I can see what the point of these rulings are. We want to stop people building new spec housing next to the mainline railway line and trying to flog it off to some unfortunate people who will end up deafened.
But in this case I really couldnt see why the occupants couldn't just be given the choice of having opening windows if they wanted them....noise or not. Some people live under the Heathrow flight path for heavens sake, and I bet their decibel levels are a lot higher.