Cubbington goes international

The photograph below records a personal first for me …

(Photo: Nick Wilmot)

… the first time that I have able to pose with a winner’s trophy. Not that I can claim to be the winner, although my name does appear on the trophy as nominator of the first-placed tree in the England’s Tree of the Year 2015 competition, which is, of course, Cubbington’s veteran pear tree. The people joining me in this group celebration are members of the tireless band who are responsible for managing and fundraising for our local action group opposing the HS2 project. This competition, which was decided by a public on-line ballot, was organised by the Woodland Trust last autumn, with the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery (see footnote). Similar contests were held to decide the winning trees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A couple of weeks before the photograph was taken Chris Hickman of the Woodland Trust had taken the considerable trouble to visit Cubbington to present the trophy to the Chair of our parish council; as I had only communicated with Chris by telephone and e-mail before his visit, it was a considerable pleasure to meet him face-to-face.

I must confess that I was somewhat taken aback by the magnificence of the object that he presented, which had been hand-crafted in Scotland using oak and elm timber from trees that had to be felled because of disease. I was also pleasantly surprised that we get to keep it forever, so it will serve as a permanent reminder of our tree if, as is looking increasingly likely, we do lose it to HS2. The intention is to keep the trophy on public display, shared between a number of venues around our village, and to take it along to meetings of village groups so that as many of our residents as possible get to see it in the next few weeks.

The Cubbington tree, along with the winners of the competitions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is now a candidate for the European Tree of the Year competition, organised by the Environmental Partnership Association. Like the English competition, the European Tree of the Year will be selected by public on-line ballot, which will run throughout February.

Whilst Cubbington representing England in an international competition is exciting and a reason to be proud of our tree, it does bring with it the pressure to do well in the contest – after all, national pride is at stake here. Whilst I was very encouraged by the tremendous support that the Cubbington tree attracted in the home contest, with the three thousand votes it gained representing one in three of those cast, I am very conscious that last year’s European Tree of the Year was elected with about fifty thousand votes. So we need to do more than ten times better this time. As campaigners in other European countries have a phrase to describe environmentally-disastrous, money sinks like the HS2 project, which translates to “useless imposed mega-projects”, I feel assured that our appeal for votes will reach many a sympathetic ear across Europe and know that Stop HS2 will be working hard to mobilise this potential support.

I feel that the stakes have suddenly got a lot higher. If we are to keep the pressure on the Government to make HS2 more environmentally-friendly, then it is important for the Cubbington tree to do well in the European contest. If our entry bombs, then I feel that much of the good work of winning the home contest will be undone.

Although we won’t be able to do well without attracting a large number of votes from other countries, we also need to mobilise, and increase, our home support. So, if you voted for the Cubbington tree in the England’s Tree of the Year competition, please be sure to vote for it again in the new contest. Please also do your very best to encourage others, who may not have voted first time, to support our entry this time.

The e-poll runs until the end of this month, and you can vote for our tree here.

The Cubbington Action Group against HS2 wish to make it clear that there is no truth in the rumours that they are also planning to enter a song in the Eurovision Song Contest, despite there being an obvious contender.

Footnote: My reasons for nominating the tree for the competition are set out in my blog Cubbington goes national (posted 23 Sep 2015). My reactions to our tree’s victory may be found in And the winner is … (posted 10 Nov 2015).

Speaking truth to power

I feel that we have reached the stage where both reader and author would benefit from a respite, however brief, from the mental labours involved in unravelling the complexities of HS2 noise policy. So, in the words of the Monty Python announcer, “and now for something completely different”.

“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

(Noam Chomsky, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, an article in The New York Review of Books, 23rd February 1967)

That it is imperative that those who hold positions of power over their fellow citizens should seek out, and take due heed of, informed advice before making a decision is hardly a new idea – the seeds of the concept were sown in the teachings of Confucius. However the ancient Chinese sage would have been well aware, from his own experience of the machinations of public administration, that it is easier said than done for a ruler, or in these days a minister, to be sure that s/he is being given the best advice, without any applied bias. Those of you who were fans of Yes Minister will be all too aware of the possibility of a real-life Sir Humphrey Appleby filtering the information that gets to the minister to ensure that s/he sees nothing that might cause “distress” or risk undermining departmental policy. So successful was Sir Humphrey as an editor that he was able to reply, when asked if there was anything that his minister didn’t know, “Well, I hardly know where to begin”.

Even if this is too pessimistic a view, the bumph generally put out by Whitehall in defence of policy decisions hardly qualifies as the unvarnished truth – too often it appears that ministers or civil servants deem it essential that a thick layer of shellac be applied in order to avoid any potential to challenge, or otherwise undermine, government policy. When making public unfavourable evidence is unavoidable, a favourite stratagem appears to be to delay publication long enough to nullify, or at least considerably reduce, the impact.

The complementary doctrine to the above advice to ministers is Chomsky’s exhortation to the intelligentsia that they should speak truth to power, reproduced at the head of this blog. In the same article, Chomsky also says:

“Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.”

Chomsky’s appeal to intellectuals was made on behalf of the 20th century anti-war movement, but the need for intellectuals to speak out on matters of government policy should not be confined to issues of war and peace. And that leads me, as I imagine you expected it would, to HS2, where the cross-party coalition of support for the project has effectively stifled any real debate about whether HS2 achieves its aims or whether there may be a better way. Surely this is a case where the intelligentsia has an important role in attempting to level this uneven playing field.

I am obviously not alone in thinking this, because last May a letter was sent to the Prime Minister signed by thirty-four of the UK’s most senior “engineers, transport planners and economists” calling on the Government to “look again at alternative ways of tackling the problems that HS2 is supposed to address”. This letter refers to the report The Economics of High Speed 2 that was published by the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords (Lords EAC) and advises that the letter’s signatories “share their Lordship’s concerns” that “the case for the HS2 project had not yet been made”.

I suppose that it is right to question whether the “truth” expressed in this letter has any better claim to veracity than views from other experts that are more inclined to support the HS2 project. Indeed, a thread that runs through the Chomsky article is that experts are just as susceptible to bias and moral corruption as the rest of us. However, looking down the names at the foot of the letter, I see no obvious vested interests or political allegiances that suggest that these experts are motivated by anything other than a genuine and disinterested desire to speak truth to power.

The reason that I raise this letter is that I have just been made aware of a proposed workshop, organised by three of the signatories to the letter, that is “designed to clarify and consolidate the arguments for a review” of the HS2 project. The preamble to the published programme of the workshop claims that “there is continuing doubt [about the HS2 project] among professional engineers and economists and among experienced railway people”. The veracity of this claim is something that I can testify to from the views expressed by the railways aficionados that attended the HSUK meeting in Birmingham last December; it was clear that, admittedly based on that small and possibly unrepresentative sample, that HS2 is not supported throughout the railway industry.

The organisers of the workshop, noting that last year’s letter “received only a superficial response” and that the Government “has been similarly dismissive” of the “sceptical” Lords EAC report, propose to utilise the outcome of the review that the workshop will provide to “produce a short, evidence-based report to be presented to the Government”.

I wish them well in this enterprise; it is surely much needed. However, I do not rate their chances very highly of obtaining the “impartial and thorough re-evaluation” of the HS2 project that they are seeking. After all, speaking truth to power is unlikely to be a very fruitful exercise when power has its fingers plugged firmly in its ears.

Somehow, I don’t think that Confucius would have approved of the way that ministers go about their business today.

I will grant the final words of this blog to Sir Humphrey Appleby:

“Government policy has nothing to do with common sense.”

Gladiatorial games, part 12

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 11, posted on 25 Jan 2016).

The expert witness on acoustics for Chiltern District Council (CDC), Rick Methold, told the HS2 Select Committee that the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold was “a relatively new concept” that those working in his field were “grappling with” (see footnote 1). So you will search in vain for a mention of LOAEL in the World Health Organisation (WHO) publication Guidelines for Community Noise, which was published in 1999.

General use of the concept by acousticians also postdates the noise policy development for HS1, so there is no precedent for HS2 to draw on for its use in a UK high speed railway project (see footnote 2). Instead, where following the HS1 precedent would lead is, as I mentioned in part 9, to employ increase in the noise environment as the indicator of the impact that results.

By the time that the WHO’s Night Noise Guidelines for Europe (NNGL) was published, the concept was well-enough established to be employed as a principle yardstick, although LOAEL was very much a last-minute addition to the document (see footnote 3). As Rupert Thornely-Taylor told the HS2 Select Committee when he presented his overview on noise way back in July 2014, LOAEL “is an established concept in toxicology”, which acousticians have adopted (see footnote 4). Unsurprisingly, especially in view of its remit to advise on threats to international health, the WHO interprets the reference to “adverse effects” in LOAEL as being solely effects that present a risk to public health. LOAEL, so the NNGL tells us (see footnote 5):

“can be considered a health-based limit value … necessary to protect the public, including most of the vulnerable groups such as children, the chronically ill and the elderly, from the adverse health effects of night noise.”

Defra’s Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) came along in March 2010. This document, to which I referred in part 10 of this blog series, is typical of the new trend in government policy statements in that the policy is set out in only the broadest terms; in the case of the NPSE it barely occupies two sides of paper. However, the document also includes a further four sides of explanatory notes, which fortunately include the following definition of LOAEL (see footnote 6):

“… the level above which adverse effects on health and quality of life can be detected.”

Unfortunately, the NPSE gives no guidance whatsoever on what suitable values for LOAEL might be in any given circumstance. The view is expressed in the NPSE that “it is not possible to have a single objective noise-based measure that is mandatory and applicable to all sources of noise in all situations” (see footnote 7). Whilst this is undoubtedly true, the absence of any clear guidance leaves, to my mind, rather too much latitude in deciding what an appropriate value for LOAEL. As Mr Methold put it to the Select Committee, members of his profession “were left scratching [their] heads” on what they “were supposed to do with national policy” (see footnote 8).

What is clear is that the NPSE requires, as its second aim, that a noise polluter should seek, as far as is “reasonable”, to “mitigate and minimise” noise that would give rise to “adverse” impacts and that, for this purpose, LOAEL is regarded as the onset of such impacts.

It is significant that the NPSE broadens out the description of adverse effects from the purely health related effects considered by the NNGL; the NPSE requires “adverse effects on health and quality of life” to be investigated. That this is a considered move is evident from the NPSE advising that the “distinction that has been made between ‘quality of life’ effects and ‘health’ effects recognises that there is emerging evidence that long term exposure to some types of transport noise can additionally cause an increased risk of direct health effects” (see footnote 9).

According to Mr Methold, the confusion about how to interpret the NPSE was “clarified quite clearly” when the Government published the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) website in March 2010 (see footnote 8). Whilst Mr Methold acknowledged that this publication post-dated the deposit of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill, he advised the Select Committee that the Promoter had been furnished with access to a beta version of the website when the Environmental Statement was in the final stages of preparation (see footnote 10).

Mr Methold produced, as his exhibit A1571(20), a table presenting advice from the “noise” section of the PPG (see footnote 11). He told the Committee that LOAEL was shown in this table as marking the level at which noise that is “noticeable and not intrusive” becomes “intrusive”. Drawing upon the description in the Examples of Outcomes column of the table he explained that LOAEL marked the point at which the noise begins to cause “small changes in behaviour and/or attitude”, or as he put it the “point at which it starts to disturb activities”. It was Mr Methold’s submission that, consequently, LOAEL could be taken to be “the point at which annoyance starts to occur” (see footnote 12).

The Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, did not appear to share Mr Methold’s upbeat assessment that the PPG resolves the ambiguity inherent in the NPSE. He ventured that there may be “room for judgement and difference of opinion” in choosing an appropriate level for LOAEL and that “experts may disagree as to where that level should be set” (see footnote 13).

It was certainly the case that differences between the CDC and the Promoter regarding the appropriate value for the HS2 LOAEL threshold were all too evident during the petition hearing, but I will look at that in the next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Methold appeared as an expert witness for Chiltern District Council (CDC): the evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015 (video) and the Promoter’s response, including evidence from expert witness for the Promoter Rupert Thornely-Taylor, was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video). Mr Methold’s comment on LOAEL is recorded in paragraph 489 of the transcript of morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.
  2. See paragraphs 113 to 119 of the transcript of morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  3. See the final paragraph of section 1.1.3 of Night Noise Guidelines for Europe, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, October 2009. The last-minute nature of the addition of LOAEL to the NNGL is evidenced, perhaps, by the omission of the acronym from the Glossary in Appendix 1 to the document.
  4. See paragraph 52 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 8thJuly 2014.
  5. See the paragraph immediately below Table 5.5 on page 109 of the NNGL.
  6. See paragraph 2.20 of Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE), Defra, March 2010.
  7. See paragraph 2.15 of the NPSE.
  8. See paragraph 92 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.
  9. See paragraph 2.14 of the NPSE.
  10. See paragraph 93 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.
  11. The table is drawn from the How to recognise when noise should be a concern? Section of the PPG website. Mr Methold has redrawn the table, but the original text has been faithfully reproduced in its entirety.
  12. For a fuller explanation of Mr Methold’s interpretation of the PPG table refer to paragraphs 95 to 106 of the transcript of morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. One point that was not brought out in this discourse is that the comments in the table are “based on the likely average response”.
  13. See paragraphs 484 and 488 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.

Acknowledgements:

I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

Exhibit A1571(20) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by Rick Methold and published on the website of the HS2 Select Committee.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Gladiatorial games, part 11

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 10, posted on 21 Jan 2016).

Current HS2 noise policy – as set out in Information Paper E20 – is that noise mitigation for any location is only considered if the noise from HS2 is predicted to exceed the Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL). The choice of an appropriate value for LOAEL is, accordingly, critical. The Promoter has prescribed level values for LOAEL – one for daytime and two for night are specified in Table 1 in Appendix B of E20 – but it appears that there is no consensus amongst acousticians as what constitutes an appropriate value for LOAEL. This was made all too apparent by the fundamentally different interpretations of LOAEL and its application that were presented to the HS2 Select Committee by the Promoter’s acoustics expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, and, Rick Methold, the expert giving evidence on behalf of the Chiltern District Council (CDC) last November (see footnote 1).

You have to have some sympathy with the acousticians – this is difficult territory. There is no such thing as a “standard” human response to noise pollution. When subjected to an identical noise environment, people’s reactions may be poles apart; what some may find intolerable, others may barely notice, and reactions may change over time as people get accustomed to the noise – an effect known as habituation. In determining the effect that a source of noise pollution will have, predicting the sound level at a given location, referred to as the “impact”, is reliant upon a good understanding of the physics of sound propagation, whereas appreciating the “effect” that the resulting noise will have on the listener requires psychology to be applied.

As a preliminary to reporting on discussions on the meaning of LOAEL that have taken place before the HS2 Select Committee, I want to prepare the ground by inviting you to consider an imaginary experiment. Let’s assume that we have a recording of a source of noise that we can play back through speakers, with the ability to change the volume of playback in small steps – let’s say by 1dB at a time. Imagine that we have assembled a crowd of people, perhaps a hundred, or so, of them, in a large room front of those speakers, and we increase the noise level, step by step. The instruction that each member of the subject group has been given is to leave the room when they first find the noise level “annoying”. As the experiment progresses, we record the number of subjects leaving the room at each level step in noise, until the room is empty.

Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that any researcher contemplating investigating the human annoyance response to noise would design any experiment as crude as this. A real-world experiment would have to be far more sophisticated in order to avoid, amongst other undesirable distortions, the results being skewed by psychological influences such as habituation and herd instinct. This is why I have termed it “imaginary”, but I hope that, crude as it is, it will serve to illustrate what follows.

In order to analyse the outcome of this imaginary experiment, it would be informative to construct a bar chart, with the bars spread along the horizontal axis in single dB intervals and the vertical axis representing the number of people who left the room at each step, expressed as a percentage of the sample. If the height of the bars are then replaced by a best-fit curve, we will have something that looks like the image below.

Normal_distributionThis is what the Promoter’s expert witness on acoustics, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, described to the Select Committee as “a bell curve” (see footnote 2); mathematicians refer to it as a “normal distribution curve”. Its shape is defined by two parameters: the mean (μ), which sets the position along the horizontal axis, and the standard deviation (σ), or more correctly the variance which is the square of the standard deviation, which determines the spread, or “fatness” of the curve.

Since this was the result of an imaginary experiment, we can assume that there are no sampling or other experimental errors and the curve is an accurate representation of the characteristics of the population.

A very useful feature of the curve is that the total area under it to the left of the point on the horizontal axis that corresponds to a particular noise level represents the percentage of the population that is annoyed by noise at, or below, that level. If we consider, for example, that the noise is at the level that is two standard deviations below the mean (μ – 2σ), then only 2.5 per cent of the population will have been annoyed by that noise. At two standard deviations above the mean (μ + 2σ) the percentage annoyed will be 97.5 per cent, and at the mean level (μ) 50 per cent will be annoyed, so the mean is also the median.

The mean and the standard deviation of the curve will vary with the circumstances of the experiment, for example:

  • The nature of the noise. The susceptibility of people to noise measured at any one particular level may be influenced considerably by certain characteristics of the noise, such as whether it is continuous or intermittent, the frequency distribution of the noise energy and whether it is perceived as harmonious or jarring. So different transportation noise sources, such as road traffic, aircraft, conventional trains and high speed trains will require to be represented by different bell curves.
  • The description of the effect. So, for example, we would have seen a different curve if we had asked our experimental sample to indicate only when they were “very annoyed” by the noise.
  • The degree of habituation of the subjects to noise. People who are used to town living, for example, are likely to be less sensitive to noise than country folk.

In the real world, sensitivity to noise of a subject will also depend upon the circumstances that s/he finds themselves in, such as whether s/he is working, at leisure, outdoors/indoors, or trying to sleep.

With all this potential for variation, it is hardly surprising that deciding on an appropriate level for the LOAEL threshold is far from obvious, and was the subject of considerable difference between the two experts.

In the next part I will examine what help national noise policy is able to offer in this respect.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Methold appeared as an expert witness for Chiltern District Council (CDC): the evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015 (video) and the Promoter’s response, including Mr Thornely-Taylor’s evidence was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video).
  2. See paragraph 105 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.

Acknowledgements:

The illustration of a normal distribution curve has been extracted, with thanks, from the Wikipedia article Normal distribution.

I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

 

Gladiatorial games, part 10

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 9, posted on 17 Jan 2016).

In part 9 I reported the concerns about the impact of HS2 on locations that currently enjoy a tranquil noise environment that had been expressed to the HS2 Select Committee by acousticians Doug Sharps and Rick Methold when they had appeared at separate sessions of the Committee (see footnote 1). Both had expressed fears that HS2 noise in such circumstances, even if predicted to be below the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold, may have an appreciable effect on the “perceived quality of life” of affected residents. Despite appearing to accept this possibility, HS2 Ltd has not, as I reported in part 9, taken locations predicted to be in this situation into account in its noise mitigation to date, and has no plans to do so as the design progresses.

I also reported the stated view of the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, that the “the public interest demands” that residents must accept this state of affairs.

You may be wondering what the view of the Promoter’s acoustics expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, is on this matter. He was given the opportunity to enlighten us when, in cross-examination during the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) petition hearing, it was put to him that “the introduction of a new source of noise into a very quiet area may have a markedly different impact upon quality of life in a rural area, compared to an urban one”. Characteristically, I feel, he sought to downplay the significance of operating HS2 through quiet rural areas and his response to the proposition put to him by HS2AA’s counsel is unlikely to offer much consolation to those that currently enjoy a tranquil environment (see footnote 2):

“Different, but not necessarily in the same direction, because a big feature of introducing railway noise to a rural area is, in between the trains, it sounds exactly the same as it did before the project was constructed.”

Do I detect a slight lack of sincerity here?

Mr Thornely-Taylor was also, I feel, very evasive when invited, during the same session of cross-examination, to identify where the difference between noise from HS2 and the background is taken into account in the design criteria specified in Information Paper E20; he would only say (see footnote 3):

“Where there is a significant effect, environmental assessment law requires mitigation to be considered and, wherever there is a significant effect identified in the way I’ve explained, mitigation is required to be considered for those communities.”

But, of course, Mr Thornely-Taylor is fully aware that there are no circumstances in which HS2 Ltd considers that the effect of HS2 noise that is predicted to be below the LOAEL threshold can be “significant”.

A consistent thread through the evidence given on behalf of Chiltern District Council by Mr Methold was to examine whether the Promoter was meeting the expectations of government noise policy as set out in the Defra document Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE), and that test is very relevant when it comes to tranquil areas. The second aim of the NPSE is to “mitigate and minimise adverse impacts on health and quality of life” by the “effective management and control of environmental, neighbour and neighbourhood noise”. It appears to me that residents of currently tranquil locations through which HS2 is destined to pass are in very great danger of suffering an adverse impact on their quality of life, something that Mr Mould seems to tacitly accept. If that proposition is accepted, then it is surely, prima facie, counter to the NPSE aim not to seek to mitigate and minimise that impact.

That this is the case, is surely underlined by Defra’s explanatory note to the third aim of the NPSE, which requires noise polluters to “where possible, contribute to the improvement of health and quality of life”. This note explicitly mentions “the protection of quiet places” as a factor that will assist with the delivery of the aim (see footnote 4).

In identifying remedies for the issue of HS2 noise affecting tranquil environments the two petitioner’s experts took different approaches, but both centred on a change to the way that the LOAEL concept is implemented.

Mr Methold proposed a general decrease in the LOAEL daytime threshold from 50dB LpAeq,16hr to 45dB LpAeq,16hr, whilst retaining the methodology prescribed currently in Information Paper E20, to determine an adverse effect (see footnote 5). Whilst this change would go some way towards improving the situation it does not directly address the problems that a change in noise exposure can bring, and I prefer the approach suggested by Mr Sharps. The HS2AA expert advocated that a second set of LOAEL and SOAEL, 10dB(A) less than the “standard set”, should apply for areas designated as “quiet” (see footnote 6).

The Promoter gave every indication that he did not feel inclined to accept either of these proposals, however.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Sharps appeared as an expert witness at the session held on the afternoon of Monday 12thOctober 2015 at which submissions on noise issues by the HS2 Action Alliance were heard (video). Mr Methold served in the same capacity for Chiltern District Council (CDC): the evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 (video) and the Promoter’s response was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video).
  2. See paragraph 273 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  3. See paragraph 285 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 2.25 of the NPSE.
  5. See exhibit A1574(6) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by CDC.
  6. See exhibit A1436(20) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by HS2AA.

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Gladiatorial games, part 9

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 8, posted on 20 Dec 2015).

In part 4 of this blog series I cited the example of receptor ID313140 (North Lee Lane Terrick) which, despite the prediction that noise from HS2 sources would result in a 5dB(A) increase in the ambient noise level, has been assessed as experiencing “no adverse effect” because the HS2 noise level is below the 50dB LpAeq,day lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold. This is far from being an isolated example, as HS2 will inflict its noise upon a considerable swathe across what are currently some of the most tranquil countryside and settlement locations in our fair land.

The failure of HS2 Ltd to properly account for the adverse effects that will result from the introduction of loud man-made noise into previously near-idyllic countryside is a matter that was taken up by both Rick Methold, expert acoustics witness for Chiltern District Council (CDC), and Doug Sharps, serving in the equivalent capacity for the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), when they made their respective appearances in front of the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1).

Mr Sharps was able to offer the Select Committee some direct evidence of the tranquillity of some of the locations that would be affected by HS2, because it appeared that he had visited “17 villages and towns” armed with his sound level meter. He told the Committee that he was “quite frankly, astonished at how quiet” these settlements were and that he had been “typically measuring background sound levels of between 30 and 35dB”. He opined that “the same level of noise from HS2 will have a markedly different impact in rural areas than urban areas” and told the Committee that it was his opinion that “it is necessary … to have noise controls that recognise the difference between quiet areas and other areas” (see footnote 2).

It surely follows that the equivalent continuous sound level from HS2 noise bursts that impact receptors at below the LOAEL threshold could still be appreciably above the pre-HS2 ambient noise, and thus have a significant effect on the soundscape, despite effectively slipping below the radar of the regime set out in Information Paper E20.

Even the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, appears to accept this, admitting that:

“[The Promoter hasn’t] said that the railway will operate so that when it passes through an area which is currently quiet, the noise in that area will only increase by say three or five decibels.”

He explained that “the public interest” demands that people who live in a quiet area through which HS2 is built are expected to accept “a certain level of change in the environment in which they live, provided that the resulting level is one which is acceptable”. He said that he recognised that such people “may well regard that as an adverse effect”, but that the Promoter’s policy “is that that is an effect that is justifiable provided that the environment in which they are placed after the train starts running is one that is acceptable” (see footnote 3).

At a later stage in the proceedings, Mr Mould added the somewhat provocative claim, in the circumstances, that “[t]hirty years after operation very few people will be left who will have experienced that change in the areas in question, so we’re talking about that relatively limited period where people in quiet areas find that their environment changes because a railway comes” (see footnote 4).

Mr Methold was able to cite three further instances that indicated that the Promoter recognised that changes in ambient sound level can affect “a person’s perceived quality of life”. The first of these was the confirmation on this point given by a representative of HS2 Ltd at a petition management meeting (see footnote 5), the second was a minute of the HS2 Acoustics Review Group (ARG) that made the same point (see footnote 6), and the third was an extract from the ARG discussion paper that I refer to in part 6 of this blog series that stresses the importance of noise change as an indicator of community effect (see footnote 7).

Mr Methold also made the point on one of his exhibits that “change in noise exposure” had been a “primary basis for identifying noise impacts for HS1”, a claim with which Mr Mould appeared to concur (see footnote 8).

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015 (video) and the Promoter’s response was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video). The HS2AA session was held on the afternoon of Monday 12th October 2015 (video).
  2. See paragraph 49 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015. That there are receptors where baseline noise goes down to the mid-thirty dBs at night is even conceded in the “do nothing” columns of the tables presented in the SV-004 series of Volume 5 appendices to the Environmental Statement.
  3. Mr Mould’s comments may be found recorded in paragraphs 457, 459 and 465 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. See paragraph 596 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  5. See paragraph 409 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 and exhibit A1571(76) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by CDC.
  6. See paragraph 410 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 and the penultimate paragraph of minute 6.2 in the notes of ARG meeting no.4, held on 14thFebruary 2013.
  7. See paragraph 410 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015 and exhibit A1571(78) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by CDC. Details of the ARG paper are given in footnote 9 to part 6 of this blog series (the extracted text may be found on page 5 of the document).
  8. See the final bullet point of exhibit A1571(73) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by CDC. Mr Mould’s confirmation is recorded in paragraph 119 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

A tale for Christmas

Season’s greetings. Some aspects of the story that I am about to recount may seem familiar. A similar tale is often told at this time of year.

It is late at night on Christmas Eve. A large office on the top floor of a building in Horseferry Road in London is illuminated only by a single green-shaded, banker’s desk lamp. The lamp barely glows, as the standard bulb has been replaced by one of a much lower power. There is also a noticeable chill in the air. Both of these are manifestations of the severe cuts to its operating budget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has imposed on the Department for Transport, whose building this is. This pruning amounts to thirty-seven per cent by 2020, the most-swingeing reduction of all government departments.

Just a few miles across London, all lights are blazing in the offices of HS2 Ltd in Canary Wharf. There are no budgetary constraints apparent here, as expenditure is regarded as investment in infrastructure. On the contrary, cost appears to be no object and HS2 Ltd staff members, drawing salaries previously unheard of for government employees, have taken over from the Canary Wharf banking community as the big spenders in the local restaurants and cocktail bars.

Barely discernible in the gloom of the office in Horseferry Road, a figure is sitting at a desk hunched over a minister’s red box. Also in the shadows on the office wall is a framed election poster; it is just possible to make out that the coal-besmirched face beaming from the poster also belongs to the lone figure working at the desk. The man is Ebenezer, occupant of the office and Transport Secretary.

Despite the gloom and chill, Ebenezer liked working alone in his office at night. Were he to remove to his small flat a few streets away his parsimonious nature would not permit him to indulge in any better conditions, and by working in his office he could save himself the meagre costs of using his own electricity. When his work on the red box was completed he could return home and crawl into bed without the need of the extravagance of heating and lighting.

As he worked through the papers in the box, much of it being mundane and not requiring all of his attention, he allowed his thoughts to wander to a strange event that had happened when he had been working in that same office two nights ago. He couldn’t be sure whether he had in reality been visited by a spirit, or whether he had dropped off and just dreamt it, but his recollections were that he had actually seen one of his predecessors as Transport Secretary, Jacob, materialise in front of him, with much rattling of chains.

Strangely, Jacob had identified himself as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and would only intone the sentence, “Where a project that is in the national interest imposes significant financial loss on individuals, it is right and proper that they should be compensated fairly for that loss”, repeated over and over again.

Ebenezer was very familiar with these words. If Jacob was intent upon haunting him, then reciting this sentence was all that was really necessary – he didn’t need to rattle his chains as well. Ebenezer was sick of hearing this sentimental claptrap. It was all right for Jacob to have made what the residents affected by HS2 property blight had taken to be a promise, after all he was well out of it, moved on to much richer pastures, leaving Ebenezer to carry the can. It was not in Ebenezer’s nature to make such rash promises himself, and how on earth did Jacob expect “fair compensation” to be funded; it would have been alright if property compensation was financed from the bottomless pit that was the HS2 Ltd budget, but it was Ebenezer’s own decimated departmental budget that had to support it.

If truth be known, Ebenezer was resentful of Jacob anyway. After all, Jacob only had to suffer being at Transport for a year and a half before moving to the plum job at Defence, and then on to even higher status at the Foreign Office. Ebenezer, in contrast, had been languishing at Transport for more than three years now, and there hadn’t been the merest whiff of a better post.

But this hadn’t been the only strange occurrence in recent days; Ebenezer recalled that another spirit, who had told him he was the Ghost of Christmas Present, had appeared to him only that previous night. Although this apparition was little more than a shimmering and wispy cloud of ectoplasm, Ebenezer felt that its form bore a distinct resemblance to a knighted Member of the HS2 Select Committee. Ebenezer recalled how the Ghost of Christmas Present had raised a ghostly and wizened hand and extended a bony finger to point to an image that appeared on the wall of the office, as if some spirit-world projector was running. The image that he saw was clip after clip showing witnesses in front of the Select Committee, all with their own tales of how HS2 blight was ruining their lives, shattering their financial plans and threatening their mental well-being.

Those readers who are familiar with the novella A Christmas Carol – and I guess that will be every reader – will expect that Ebenezer will be visited by yet another apparition as he works in his office on Christmas Eve night, and that what that spirit has to show him of his future will shock him into a complete change in his nature, so that he awakes on Christmas morning a kind, generous and compassionate embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Here, I’m afraid, I’m going to have to disappoint you, dear reader. Christmas is such a busy time and it’s easy to become muddled with dates and be in one place when we should be in another – we’ve all done it, and I’m afraid that it happens in the spirit world also. So it was that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come double-booked for Christmas Eve and never got to Horseferry Road that night. So the person who woke up on 25th December was the same old miser who had gone to bed the night before, and the blighted thousands had to endure yet another Christmas without any hope of relief.

As Tiny Tim was heard to say: “God bless us, everyone!”

PS: The characters depicted in this blog, and their characteristics and actions, are totally fictional. The desperate situation of many residents along the proposed route of HS2 is, unfortunately, not an invention and is a very real, and ever-present, feature of their lives.

Those in favour of budget cuts will be pleased to note my gesture of reducing the number of spirit visitations by twenty-five per cent from the extravagant four in the original story.

 

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