A draft Construction Noise Guideline (Guideline) has been released by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for public consultation. Private and public construction proponents, contractors, engineers and other stakeholders are encouraged to make a submission on the draft Guideline by 30 April 2021.
- The draft Guideline aims to set a best-practice industry standard for managing noise impacts from construction and maintenance activities and updates the existing Interim Guideline dated July 2009 (Interim Guideline).
- Key updates include a need for greater community engagement at all stages of a project, refreshed guidance for managing noise impacts, an improved risk-based approach for assessing noise impacts, more transparency around mitigation measures and a streamlined assessment pathway for routine activities by public authorities.
- It is expected that the EPA, and other relevant authorities (consent, determining or regulatory), will refer to the Guideline to regulate and manage construction noise when it is finalised.
Application of the Guideline
The Guideline is a non-statutory document, which sets out a framework to be referred to by the EPA, and consent authorities, when regulating and managing construction noise. The draft Guideline will replace the Interim Guideline when it is finalised.
It is designed for proponents and other persons involved with the design, approval, construction and development of projects, including those listed within Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) (POEO Act) and otherwise determined under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) (EP&A Act).
The Guideline is specifically designed to assess and managed the noise impacts of infrastructure construction and routine construction and maintenance. It does not apply to occupational maintenance, residential premises, public road noise, industrial noise, vibrations or blasting.
The draft Guideline builds on the current noise management framework under the Interim Guideline and key updates are set out below.
Greater community engagement
The draft Guideline states that proponents should engage with the community during all project stages at a level proportionate to the risk of noise impact. This aim is to ensure that:
- good working relationships exist between proponents, the community and other stakeholders for the communication of environmental performance; and
- community views are considered when planning how to manage construction noise impacts.
The draft Guideline sets out the following forms of ’good practice’ interactions with the community led by proponents:
- notification: communicate with the community via one-way notifications (e.g. letterbox drops, social medial channels and community briefings) which detail who is undertaking the work, and the work’s purpose and duration;
- engagement: notify the community of proposed activities and invite feedback for consideration; and
- consultation: actively engage with and consider the views of the community and regulatory authorities to plan feasible and reasonable mitigation measures (e.g. through liaison groups and feedback/complaint registers).
It is clear that community engagement should be determined on a case-by-case basis and larger projects with a greater risk of noise impacts should more actively engage with the community.
Refreshed guidance for managing noise outside recommended construction hours
The existing recommended ‘standard hours’ for undertaking construction under the Interim Guideline remain unchanged in the draft Guideline. These are:
- normal construction: 7:00am to 6:00pm weekdays and 8:00am to 1:00pm Saturday, with no work on Sundays or public holidays; and
- blasting: 9:00am to 5:00pm weekdays and 9:00am to 1:00pm Saturday, with no blasting on Sundays or public holidays.
The draft Guideline provides a refreshed set of construction activities that may be required to be undertaken outside the recommended standard hours, including:
- delivery of oversized equipment or structures;
- where a road occupancy licence is required;
- emergency work;
- maintenance and repair of public infrastructure or other public infrastructure works; and
- where a proponent can demonstrate and justify the need.
It is clear that the draft Guideline seeks to ensure that construction is undertaken within the recommended standard hours.
If work is to occur outside the recommended standard hours, the draft Guideline recommends the following hierarchy of working hours, subject to approvals and community preferences (in order of preference):
- Saturday afternoon periods between 1:00pm and 5:00pm;
- Sundays between 8:00am and 6:00pm;
- weekday evening periods between 6:00pm and 10:00pm;
- weekday night periods between 10:00pm and 7:00am; and
- all other times outside the recommended standard hours.
Risk-based assessment approach
When sensitive receivers and proposed hours of work are confirmed, the draft Guideline requires proponents to conduct a qualitative or quantitative assessment based on potential noise impacts.
This assessment is suitable for activities unlikely to cause significant noise impacts (e.g. a small construction project regulated by a local council). An activity will be ‘unlikely’ to cause significant noise impacts where noise is relatively quiet, sensitive receivers are not nearby, or the work will generally be undertaken during the recommended standard hours.
The draft Guideline provides a baseline approach to a qualitative noise assessment for proponents.
This assessment is suitable for activities that are likely to generate high noise levels at sensitive receivers and/or outside standard hours. The draft Guideline indicates that major construction projects that require an Environmental Impact Assessment will generally need to adopt this noise assessment approach.
The draft Guideline provides a framework for comparing predicted noise levels with noise management levels for residential and other sensitive land uses, including airborne and ground-borne noise.
Improved transparency when reducing noise impacts
To improve transparency, the need for proponents to justify and document the practices and mitigation measures they adopt to minimise noise impacts is addressed in the draft Guideline.
Proponents will need to document actions adopted for each step in the assessment process, including:
- identification of sensitive land uses that may be affected and the proposed hours of work;
- based on the risk of noise impacts, selection of either a quantitative or qualitative assessment method;
- determination of likely noise impacts using the appropriate assessment method;
- identification of and justification for selecting feasible and reasonable work practices to minimise noise impacts;
- the outcomes of assessments in assessment reports; and
- community engagement processes.
To justify the selection of mitigation measures, proponents will need to demonstrate that measures are feasible (can be engineered and practical to implement) and reasonable (benefits of a feasible measure outweigh its overall adverse effects).
Simplified assessment path for public authorities
The draft Guideline also proposes a simplified assessment path for routine work activities undertaken by a public authority (and their representatives) on public infrastructure project in their role as the prescribed determining authority.
It is proposed that, through industry management procedures, public authorities will not need to conduct a noise assessment for a routine activity. Routine activities may include the construction, maintenance or repair of roads, railways and other public infrastructure. These activities are considered to be well-defined repetitive activities that have limited noise risk variability from location to location.
Prescribed determining authorities will be able to develop industry management procedures according to the draft Guideline and Australian Standard 2436 to define feasible and reasonable noise mitigation measures.
Feedback on the draft Guideline can be submitted to the EPA until Friday 30 April 2021.
Following a further period of review, a consultation report will be published by the EPA before the Guideline is finalised and released to the public.
Feedback can be submitted here via survey or email.
By Peter Briggs, Partner, and Tom Dougherty, Senior Associate. Assisted by Andrew Mahler, Vacation Clerk.
Update: This post has been amended to reflect the revised public exhibition period.
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