‘Errors’ in noise assessments before ‘great wall of Littlehampton’ was built

A 3.5 metre tall acoustic barrier in Littlehampton could be reduced in height after nearby residents voiced their dismay at the structure but costs would have to be paid by the council.

Friday, 10th December 2021, 3:48 pm
New acoustic fencing for Fitzalan Link Road right behind properties' back gardens

The wall is intended to mitigate noise from the Fitzalan Link Road which has been commissioned by developer Persimmon to join the new Lyminster bypass at the A259.

The barrier is located behind garden fences and is visible to residents of Highdown Drive and Amberley Close.

When planning permission was given for the road back in 2012 the barrier had to be built as a condition.

A demonstration of the height of the acoustic fence

But residents are unhappy with the final design – 3.5 metres tall and constructed from weathered steel.

They had hoped the barrier could be shorter, at around 2.5 metres, and constructed from timber.

Some residents are also campaigning for the speed limit to be lowered from 40 to 30 miles per hour including councillor David Chace and Highdown Drive resident David Wills.

Resident Tracy Lynch started a petition to lower the speed limit, which has since received almost 400 signatures.

Councillor David Chace and Highdown Drive resident David Wills calling for speed limit on new Fitzalan Link Road to be lowered to 30

Since construction started on the barrier, Arun District Council has commissioned legal advice and an acoustic assessment.

These will be discussed at a special planning meeting on Wednesday (December 15) when councillors will decide whether or not to seek changes to the barrier or withdraw permission entirely.

If approved, any changes to the barrier may have to be paid for by the council.

Although it has approached Persimmon for an estimate, the developer has not yet provided one.

A meeting took place between Persimmon, Arun DC, and highways authority West Sussex County Council (WSCC) on December 8 to discuss the way forward.

Former Littlehampton Town Councillor Derrick Chester, was present when the road opened yesterday (December 8).

He said: “The planning process and construction has had its fair share of controversy with residents on the eastern side of Highdown Drive and in Amberley Close having had an ugly, 3.5 metre, rusting steel barrier built at the rear of their gardens; an ‘acoustic barrier’ based on what we now know was a fundamentally flawed noise report submitted by the applicant.

“In addition, the road has been allocated a 40 mph speed limit from the A259 to just before the Academy – where it changes to 30.

“Residents have campaigned for it to be 30 all along, it would be quieter and safer. Hopefully a solution can be found so residents get some respite.”

What advice has the council been given?

Legal advice from Town Legal LLP says the barrier was constructed lawfully and there were ‘no errors in decision making’ when it was approved.

The council could seek to make changes to the wall but it could bear the costs and may not be able to remove works that have already taken place.

‘Robust evidence’ would have to be produced if the council sought changes and a decision may have to be referred to the secretary of state.

Would a shorter barrier be enough?

WSCC may be happy to make changes to the wall if planning permission and compensation is approved.

But Persimmon indicated it would not be happy to make amendments.

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes said: “The acoustic fence has been delivered in accordance with the specifications set out in the planning requirements.

“If any changes are proposed it will be up to the relevant local authorities to set out their intentions.”

Persimmon submitted several noise assessments in 2011 to support a 3.5 metre barrier but a council commissioned report by 24 Acoustics identified ‘errors’.

The same report concluded that a 2.5 metre high barrier would mitigate noise to an acceptable level, with only a few decibels difference when compared to the current 3.5 metre barrier.

The original noise assessment only assessed a 3.5 metre barrier.

Even with the current 3.5 metre barrier, noise would be higher than stated in the original application, says 24 Acoustics.

Fitzalan Link Road was also meant to be constructed using ‘low noise surfacing’ but 24 acoustics claims that standard asphalt was used instead.

This would have reduced noise by only 1- 2 decibels, regardless of the barrier height.

The assessment by 24 Acoustics concluded that a timber barrier may not mitigate noise adequately, but a transparent alternative is also possible.

Timber was proposed and approved as the material in June 2018.

But Persimmon applied to change this to galvanized steel and this was approved in April 2020.

The move was supported by WSCC due to the longer lifespan of steel – The highways authority will have to maintain the acoustic barrier in future, with contributions from the developer.

Consultation planned

The council intends to consult with residents on the eastern side of Highdown Drive before any changes are made.

But previously residents have spoken of ‘not being listened to’ and ‘excluded from the review’.

Although the council is not required to carry out consultation, Town Legal LLP advised doing so.