Sound ad­vice

As an­other ground closes due to noise com­plaints, James Si­mon dis­cov­ers the is­sue of shoot­ing noise is more com­pli­cated than you might think

Clay Shooting - - Contents -

The is­sue of shoot­ing noise is more com­pli­cated than you might think

Pic­ture the rolling hills of the Tran­non Val­ley in the heart of mid-wales. This is a soft, ru­ral land­scape where lit­tle trou­bles the sheep and dairy herds that thrive here. A patch­work of an­cient pas­ture, rib­boned by wood­land and criss-crossed by a lat­tice­work of streams, it re­ally is slap-bang in the mid­dle of nowhere. Or more ac­cu­rately, slap in the mid­dle of nowhere now that the bangs have been si­lenced.

Ear­lier this year, the Mid Wales Shoot­ing Cen­tre, one of the coun­try’s best-known grounds, shut up shop for good af­ter noise com­plaints, and the en­su­ing re­stric­tions made busi­ness un­ten­able. If a ground in such a re­mote lo­ca­tion can come un­der fire, what hope is there for shoot­ing com­plexes in more pop­u­lated neigh­bour­hoods?

Mid Wales Shoot­ing Cen­tre was a thriv­ing ground that shouldn’t have suc­cumbed to po­ten­tial op­er­at­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. A pop­u­lar em­ployer in the area, ev­ery year the ground hosted the Krieghoff Clas­sic, as well as a mul­ti­tude of na­tional and in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onships. Al­though the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion is small – the clos­est vil­lage, Trefeglwys (pop­u­la­tion 910) is half a mile away – the cen­tre was a huge draw for tourists, and a wel­come source of in­come for the Welsh econ­omy. So where did it all go wrong? “Al­though the Cen­tre had been op­er­at­ing for 30 years, and brought in about £3 mil­lion for the lo­cal econ­omy,” said Jonathan Wil­liams, owner of the cen­tre, “com­plaints from a small mi­nor­ity of res­i­dents were re­lent­less. We took ev­ery step that we could to mit­i­gate noise lev­els, but the more we gave in, the more re­stric­tions they de­manded.

“It was very dis­heart­en­ing to see our busi­ness be­ing de­stroyed, but in the end it just wasn’t worth con­tin­u­ing.”

Jonathan and his team fell foul of what many con­sider sketchy le­gal guid­ance. Un­der the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act of 1990, a lo­cal author­ity is re­quired to in­ves­ti­gate when­ever a com­plaint of statu­tory nui­sance is made. A statu­tory nui­sance is rather im­pre­cisely de­fined to in­clude ‘noise emit­ted from premises so as to be prej­u­di­cial to health or a nui­sance’.

For di­rec­tion on what con­sti­tutes a nui­sance, coun­cils rely on the Char­tered In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­men­tal Health pa­per Clay Tar­get Shoot­ing: Guid­ance on the Con­trol of Noise that was pub­lished nearly 20 years ago.

“Gen­er­ally, this is a well-re­searched doc­u­ment,” said Jonathan, “But the fig­ures coun­cils are mak­ing judge­ments on are so low.

It states that: ‘An­noy­ance is less likely to oc­cur at a mean shoot­ing noise level be­low 55DB(A), and highly likely to oc­cur at a mean shoot­ing noise level above 65DB(A)’. To put that into per­spec­tive, a nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion is about 60DB(A).”

Drive 200 miles east of Trefeglwys, and in flat­test, most ru­ral Lin­colnshire you’ll find Aaron Head­ing’s ground, The Pri­ory Clay Tar­get Cen­tre. Just like the Mid Wales Shoot­ing Cen­tre was, Aaron found him­self tar­geted by a small mi­nor­ity, this time com­pris­ing of neigh­bours who had re­cently moved into the area.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it seems com­mon for peo­ple to move in with­out re­al­is­ing that there’s a clay ground nearby,” said Aaron. “Hu­mans are very sen­si­tive to sud­den noises be­cause we in­ter­pret them as po­ten­tial threats. So a con­stant wash of sound from an A road may be louder, but in­di­vid­ual shots from a dis­tant ground may give the im­pres­sion of be­ing higher in vol­ume.

“It can also get very per­sonal. Our com­plainants whipped up hys­te­ria by post­ing fly­ers through neigh­bour­ing let­ter­boxes urg­ing the whole town to com­plain. On a lighter note, the fly­ers proved to be quite an ef­fec­tive ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign for us!”

The Pri­ory is si­t­u­ated on an old RAF base that, iron­i­cally, was used for shoot­ing prac­tice by Spit­fires in WWII. It be­came a shoot­ing ground in the 1950s, and Aaron moved in six years ago. He in­her­ited plan­ning per­mis­sion to shoot 24/7, but de­cided to re­strict the hours from 9.30am to 4pm on Wed­nes­days, Fri­days, Satur­days and Sun­days in def­er­ence to the neigh­bour­ing town of Sut­ton Bridge, which lies half a mile away.

“When the com­plaints started we de­cided to work closely with our lo­cal coun­cil­lor,” said

Aaron. “As soon as he recog­nised the trade that the ground brought into the area he was very sup­port­ive. Af­ter all, shoot­ers book ho­tels, restau­rants and pur­chase from lo­cal shops and busi­nesses.

“In the end the lo­cal coun­cil com­pleted ex­ten­sive tests and dis­cov­ered that the noise from our ground was in­dis­cernible above the am­bi­ent road noise emit­ted from the A17. Dur­ing test­ing we had coun­cil and CPSA rep­re­sen­ta­tives at both the ground and at the com­plainant’s house. Laugh­ably, af­ter we let off the first five shots, we had a mes­sage over the walkie-talk­ing ask­ing us when we were go­ing to start shoot­ing.”

Aaron suc­cess­fully fought off the po­ten­tial noise abate­ment or­der, but still wants to re­main on good terms with the res­i­dents of Sut­ton Bridge.

“Soil bunds have been in­stalled and we will con­tinue to im­prove these as and when we can af­ford to do so. We have also banned all game loads, which are con­sid­er­ably louder. As the ground be­comes more pop­u­lar it’s only right that we keep noise to an ap­pro­pri­ate level.

“My ad­vice to any ground fac­ing com­plaints is to build a busi­ness case that shows your worth in the com­mu­nity, and to work closely with your lo­cal coun­cil­lor. Don’t back down. The Pri­ory is my fam­ily’s liveli­hood and it seemed un­rea­son­able that new­com­ers could take that away from us. Never re­strict your busi­ness to the ex­tent it can no longer func­tion.”

But it’s al­ways been here!

Does it seem right that a new neigh­bour can shut down a long-stand­ing ground? We can learn from two other leisure pur­suits that have fre­quently found them­selves in the dock – mo­tor­sport and live mu­sic. Coven­try

“It’s my fam­ily’s liveli­hood, and it seemed un­rea­son­able that new­com­ers could take that away from us”

vs. Lawrence (2014) UKSC 13 con­cerned a claimant who bought a house that was close to a mo­tor­sport sta­dium 31 years af­ter it first opened, and some 14 years af­ter a mo­tocross course was con­structed on ad­ja­cent land.

Dur­ing an ap­peal, the Supreme Court clar­i­fied that the mo­tor­sport fa­cil­ity could have es­tab­lished a pre­scrip­tive right to com­mit a nui­sance by noise if it had con­tin­ued for 20 years or more. How­ever, the sta­dium own­ers lost the case be­cause the mo­tocross course had only been in ex­is­tence for 14 years and, al­though the sta­dium had been noisy for more than 20 years, it couldn’t be es­tab­lished that it had cre­ated a noise nui­sance for that time. The de­fen­dants had to show that the noise caused by their ac­tiv­i­ties was cre­ated ‘as of right’ and not merely ‘of right’.

For­tu­nately, there’s pos­i­tive news from the world of pubs, clubs and mu­sic venues. As the pres­sure for hous­ing in­creases, more res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments are be­ing built, which of­ten brings them into con­flict with ex­ist­ing live venues. Clay grounds are fac­ing sim­i­lar pressures as hous­ing es­tates push deeper into the coun­try­side. In July 2018, af­ter much cam­paign­ing by the Mu­sic Venue Trust, the UK Govern­ment up­dated its Na­tional Plan­ning Pol­icy Frame­work in favour of any ex­ist­ing venues.

Para­graph 182 states: ‘Plan­ning poli­cies and de­ci­sions should en­sure that new de­vel­op­ment can be in­te­grated ef­fec­tively with ex­ist­ing busi­nesses and com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties (such as places of wor­ship, pubs, mu­sic venues and sports clubs).’

Essen­tially, this should end the prac­tice of new house own­ers shut­ting down neigh­bour­ing mu­sic venues and clay clubs.

Pre­ven­tion bet­ter than cure

Richard Wor­thing­ton, mar­ket­ing & de­vel­op­ment man­ager at the CPSA, would be sur­prised if there’s a ground in the coun­try that hasn’t suf­fered a noise com­plaint at some stage. “There’s no get­ting away from the fact that we are a noisy sport,” said Richard. “More of­ten than not, it is from a new per­son mov­ing into a neigh­bour­ing area.”

Richard echoes Aaron’s ad­vice. “Es­tab­lished grounds will of­ten be well-re­garded by their lo­cal coun­cil and con­sid­ered an im­por­tant source of em­ploy­ment and in­come for the area. Only rarely will they want to see them shut-down by the ac­tions of one com­plainant.

“Our ad­vice is to work with the coun­cil closely and avoid be­ing con­fronta­tional or ag­gres­sive. I am not sug­gest­ing a ground should im­me­di­ately ca­pit­u­late, but do try to ex­plore al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions. If you are a Sport­ing ground can you rear­range your lay­out so you are not shoot­ing in the di­rec­tion of the com­plainant? Can you en­close your stands, or build earth bunds to ab­sorb sound?

“Owls Lodge is a good ex­am­ple of a ground that has bunds that al­most en­cir­cle it. John Bid­well has made good use of bunds at High Lodge too, and has cov­ered stands. If a ground can show that it has made ev­ery ef­fort to mit­i­gate noise, then the coun­cil should look on it more favourably.”

“The more we gave in, the more re­stric­tions they de­manded”

In Richard’s ex­pe­ri­ence, if a com­plaint is up­held then the most likely out­come is that heav­ier loads will be banned, hours will be re­stricted and mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the ground may be im­posed. Very oc­ca­sion­ally, coun­cils will in­sist on the use of sub­sonic car­tridges too.

“Grounds are far bet­ter off adopt­ing noise-re­duc­ing mea­sures early on so that com­plaints can be avoided in the first place. Sadly, as we have seen with grounds such as Mid Wales Shoot­ing Cen­tre, and White Wa­ter Shoot­ing Ground near Don­caster, any im­posed re­stric­tions can be so oner­ous that busi­ness be­comes im­pos­si­ble.”

There’s no one size fits all fix for the is­sue of noise com­plaints

Even the most re­mote clay ground can come un­der fire

Thank­fully, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to mit­i­gate noise

Aaron Head­ing has ex­pe­ri­enced com­plaints from lo­cals be­fore

Shoot­ing is a nat­u­rally noisy sport and we need to be sure we aren’t dis­turb­ing any­one

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