The appeal site was located in a narrow corridor of open countryside used by helicopters travelling between a military base and a training area. Chinooks and other aircraft would typically fly at between 30 and 150 metres above the ground two or three times an hour as part of routine training operations. Council members had refused the application, against officers’ advice, because of concerns over noise and disturbance to mourners and other visitors.
The inspector was provided with a demonstration flyover during the hearing. He found that the noise generated was dominant, intrusive and likely to be highly distracting to mourners outside the proposed crematorium and visitors to an associated memorial garden. Citing advice in paragraph 95 of the NPPF that planning decisions should not adversely affect operational defence sites, he held that annoyance and distress to mourners and visitors was likely to generate adverse publicity and complaints that could result in significant pressure to reroute flights away from the appeal site, with consequential cost and security implications for defence bodies.
He accepted concerns raised by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the validity of a noise assessment undertaken by the appellants suggesting that a nearby trunk road was the dominant noise source across the site, given that helicopter activity had been significantly below normal during the survey dates. Although the MoD had not lodged a formal objection to the application, he recognised its substantial concerns and held that a lack of complaints over low flying in the area was not determinative.
He concluded that the noise and disturbance caused by helicopters, in combination with road traffic noise, were significant enough to justify refusing permission for the crematorium, despite an evidenced need. He also refused to award costs against council members, finding that their reasons for refusal were well substantiated and they had good reasons to reach a different view from their officers.
Inspector: Thomas Hatfield; Hearing