ACADEMICS at the University of Bradford have pioneered a technique to measure how much damage new construction projects would do to the tranquility of the surrounding area.
They have devised a formula which takes into account both visual factors and noise levels to create a combined tranquility scale.
It could prove to be a breakthrough in settling arguments between developers and protestors about controversial developments such as windfarms, particularly in sensitive locations.
The study was led by Professor Greg Watts with Dr Robert Pheasant at the university's Centre for Sustainable Environments.
Using their formula, it is possible to work out how far you would have to be from a potential development before there was no impact on tranquility.
The criteria could be adjusted to take into account different circumstances, such as setting a higher threshold for rural areas and existing factors such as background road noise.
The method could be of particular use to planning authorities and conservationists in light of the recent recognition in the National Planning Policy Framework of the importance of tranquil spaces in providing health and well-being benefits.
According to the study, the number of tranquil locations in this country is "becoming seriously compromised", prompting the work.
The academics combined a number of techniques, including noise measurement software and photographic surveys, to demonstrate the feasibility of producing contour maps of tranquillity.
Professor Watts said: "Using contour maps it will be possible to identify quality tranquil spaces and regular updates to the maps will enable external threats to be identified and action taken.
"Defining a tranquillity footprint has in the past been difficult due to the lack of a prediction method that takes into account both acoustic and visual factors in a precise and quantifiable manner. However, our tranquillity rating prediction tool (TRAPT) has the potential to help planning authorities and conservationists quantify the impact of new developments."
To test the formula, researchers collected data in and around a wind farm in neighbouring Calderdale, at Ovenden Moor, which consisted of 23 turbines and were able to plot a hypothetical contour map.
The TRAPT technique has been used before, but only for assessing city and country parks for tranquility where questionnaires were used to validate or demonstrate the accuracy of the findings.
Researchers wanted to put the knowledge they had gained into practice in a way which could be used to help influence planning decisions, with the tranquility, or TR, rating determined by a mathematical formula which calculates the combined impact of different factors.
The National Planning Policy Framework states that planning decisions should aim to "identify and protect areas of tranquility that have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason".
Previous work to assess the genuine impact of developments on tranquil areas has been problematic.
A report compiled by the two authors points to guidance given by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in 1994 that the loss of tranquility was "absolute within 1 km of a windfarm and partial within 2 km of a windfarm".
That guidance was later scaled down to 0.5 km, though it was accepted the lower figure could be an under-estimate.
The report assesses that higher levels of tranquility can be expected in an environment which is both visually and aurally pleasant and calming.