Is the noise of children playing a nuisance?
That’s the debate raging in Albany Road, Leighton Buzzard, over proposed changes to Footsteps Nursery’s operating conditions.
The business is seeking a variation to its opening hours of 7.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday – a half hour extension at both the start and end of the day – to allow more flexibility for parents.
And the nursery also wishes to remove another planning condition which restricts the use of its garden area.
Currently the garden can only be used at 10.30am-11.30am and 2.15pm-3.15pm for no more than 10 children at a time.
The proposed changes, which go before Central Beds Council’s development control committee on Wednesday, have drawn 27 letters of objection from neighbouring properties, and a 45-signature petition from residents in Albany Road, South Street, Lovent Drive and Hartwell Grove.
They insist the noise from inside the nursery already causes unacceptable levels of disturbance for retired people, shift workers and home workers and that extending the hours, coupled with extra use of the garden, will only make matters worse.
Complainants describe the door knocker as “penetrating and wakes up neighbouring occupiers”, they say “it is impossible to work from home currently during the hours at which children are allowed to play outside, due to the high levels of noise”, and “the nursery should take children to the nearby park to play in”.
Neighbours have also accused CBC of showing favouritism to the nursery over the years by rejecting complaints from residents.
Aside from potential noise issues, objectors also highlight “critical” parking problems in Albany Road which they say would be exacerbated by an extension to the operating hours.
They also fear young children will be moving around a very heavily congested road during the busiest times causing highway safety problems.
A counter petition contains 67 signatures from clients of the nursery, seven of whom live in Albany Road or the immediately surrounding streets.
And a letter of support for the nursery describes the noise of children playing in the garden as “a pleasant sound”.
Another response from a nearby property said “we enjoy the sound of children playing”. It added: “The garden is sorely underutilised and there is increasing evidence of the benefits of outdoor play to the development of children. The leaflet sent round to mobilise opposition is scaremongering nimbyism.”
Planning permission for the nursery was refused in 1990 due to noise concerns in a residential street, and parking issues, but a Government inspector backed an appeal.
The CBC planning report for the March 1 meeting states: “A number of complaints in regards to noise have been made to the
Environmental Health Team over the years, but following investigation, these complaints have not been upheld.
“Complaints were made to the Enforcement Team in May 2016 that the nursery were accepting children earlier than 8am. These complaints were investigated and were discovered to be true. Enforcement officers followed the council’s enforcement procedures and invited the nursery to submit an application.”
Planners are recommending the committee allows the changes as they “would not give rise to an unacceptably harmful impact on the amenity of neighbouring occupiers or the safety and capacity of the surrounding highway network.”
But they say the nursery should produce an annually reviewed travel plan, and suggest an alternative condition requiring the submission and implementation of a noise management plan which would limit unstructured play to two hours a day, while allowing increased hours for quieter outdoor activities.
Central Beds public protection officer states: “Nurseries are known to give rise to an amount of noise from children playing but it is
important to stress that it has previously been demonstrated at other similar settings that such can be managed.
“It is also important to understand the context within which noise is created. It is structured and timed play throughout the day. Any impact is unlikely to take place across all permitted hours, more typically it will be interspersed throughout the day.
“Neither will the noise generated be consistent but will vary greatly depending on the type of activity taking place.”
The officer pointed out the garden is subdivided up into smaller areas. “This allows creativity in how the garden is used and permits activities to take place in different areas, which in turn alters any noise generation and its impact on neighbouring residents.
“Likewise the play areas are structured and contain many activities which will stimulate children’s learning and minimise excitability which may be associated with uncontrolled play spaces. Likewise the garden is enclosed at the points closest to residential neighbours by a substantial wall providing an element of noise reduction.”
CBC’s highways officer registers no opposition to the extended hours, believing it will slightly reduce traffic in the area at peak times.
The officer states: “The extension of opening hours may also coincide at a time where some residents’ vehicles are occupying some of the on-street parking space which may have otherwise been free after 8am, i.e. those residents travelling to work by car. If this does occur then any inconvenience in not finding a parking space will be experienced by the users of the nursery, not necessarily the local residents.”
Leighton-Linslade Town Council has said that while it is fine to extend the opening hours, it would like to see a compromise reached to enable greater use of the garden while giving consideration to the potential noise nuisance for neighbouring residents.
> What do you think? Do you live in the area or near another nursery or school? Can children playing be a noisy nuisance? Email firstname.lastname@example.org