Gladiatorial games, part 26

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 25, posted on 30 Apr 2016).

I mentioned in part 24 of this blog series that Doug Sharps, expert witness on acoustics for the HS2 Action Alliance, had raised some issues with the HS2 Select Committee that his professional colleague Rick Methold, put up by Chiltern District Council, had not covered, and that there were two in particular that I wished to review. Having examined the first of these in the preceding two parts of this series, I will now take a look at the second (see footnote 1).

This second issue is the threshold levels that HS2 Ltd has specified for the significant observed adverse effect level (SOAEL) and, more specifically, the relationship of those threshold values to the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) values.

By way of a reminder, the value specified for SOAEL is important to affected residents because one of the “noise policy aims” of the Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) is to “avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life”. By definition, this means avoiding exposing residents to noise levels that exceed SOAEL. However, before we get too excited about this prospect, the gilt is decidedly removed from the gingerbread by the accompanying caveat “while also taking into account the guiding principles of sustainable development”, which basically means you don’t have to avoid it if it is too difficult, or it costs too much. Notwithstanding, SOAEL is important because the NPSE regards noise that is below the SOAEL, but above the LOAEL, thresholds as “adverse” and the NPSE aim then is only to “mitigate and minimise” rather than “avoid”. Whilst this is, at least on the face of it, a clear distinction if the SOAEL threshold is exceeded, the clarity of the difference is somewhat blurred by the sustainable development get out of jail free card being in play (see footnote 2).

Mr Sharps explained his gripe to the HS2 Select Committee in the following way (see footnote 3):

“In my opinion, the significant adverse effect levels should be 10dB above the low observed adverse effect levels, not the 15dB for LAeq or the 20-25dB for LAmax that HS2 propose. The 10dB is a doubling of loudness, a much higher level; and HS2 adopt this 10dB difference between low levels of impact and significant levels of impact in the construction noise criteria which are in E23.”

The numbers behind Mr Sharps’ remarks may be easily verified by referring to the two HS2 Ltd information papers E20 and E23. The former informs us that, if we employ LAeq to operational noise, SOAEL daytime is set at 65dB LpAeq,16hr and the equivalent LOAEL is 50dB; at night SOAEL is 55dB LpAeq,8hr and LOAEL is 40dB – so that is 15dB difference in both cases, as Mr Sharps claims. At night we have the choice of employing LAmax and, in this case, SOAEL is either 85dB LpAFMax or 80dB LpAFMax, depending upon whether the number of nightly train pass-bys is above or below twenty; the equivalent LOAEL is 60dB LpAFMax, irrespective of the pass-by rate – so the difference is 20-25dB, agreeing with Mr Sharp (see footnote 4).

Delving into E23 reveals that the SOAEL thresholds set for construction noise vary from 65dB LpAeq,T to 75dB LpAeq,T, depending upon the time period during the day and evening, with the corresponding LOAEL a uniform 10dB below in the range 55dB LpAeq,T to 65dB LpAeq,T – all as claimed by Mr Sharps (see footnote 5).

What Mr Sharps was seeking was for this 10dB margin to apply to all construction and operation thresholds, rather than having different margins between LOAEL and SOAEL, an arrangement that he described as “illogical” (see footnote 6). Mr Sharps’ plea for “a logical matrix of assessment criteria” did not appear to find favour with the Promoter’s expert witness on acoustics, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, despite his concern, expressed on another occasion and in connection with a different issue, that the setting of LOAEL and SOAEL threshold values should not result in an “odd looking framework” that “doesn’t make sense” (see footnote 7). As it turned out, with the exception of a single comment about the source of the 55dB LpAeq,8hr SOAEL that I will refer to in part 27, Mr Thornely-Taylor left making the counter-arguments on the SOAEL/LOAEL relationships to the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, during his cross-examination of Mr Sharps.

In my view legal cross-examination can all too often serve to obscure, rather than expose, the truth. It is an adversarial process that requires Counsel to be an interrogator, rather than a facilitator, and often causes the witness to be overly defensive and unwilling to volunteer information. Unfortunately, this typical behaviour appeared to govern the discussion about the SOAEL/LOAEL relationships that the Select Committee witnessed, and I don’t think that much illumination was achieved. However, I will use my next posting to report upon what was said.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented by Mr Sharps was heard during the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015 (video and transcript).
  2. See paragraphs 1.7, 2.23 and 2.24 of the NPSE.
  3. See paragraph 50 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. Refer to Table 1 in Appendix B to HS2 Ltd publication High Speed Two Information Paper E20: Control of airborne noise from altered roads the operational railway.
  5. Refer to Table 1 in Appendix A to HS2 Ltd publication High Speed Two Information Paper E23: Control of construction noise and vibration.
  6. See paragraph 78 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  7. Refer to the fifth paragraph of my report in part 18 of this blog series. Mr Thornely-Taylor’s quotes are taken from paragraph 22 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4th November 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 include 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 25

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 24, posted on 26 Apr 2016).

I mentioned in part 24 that one of the claims that Doug Sharps, expert witness on acoustics for the HS2 Action Alliance, had made to the HS2 Select Committee in defence of his view that more stringent assessment criteria should apply to HS2 operational noise during the evening was that, in contrast to the position with operational noise, the assessment of HS2 construction noise did take this into account (see footnote 1). That this is the case may clearly be verified from HS2 Ltd published documentation (see footnote 2), so it fell to Rupert Thornely-Taylor, acoustics expert witness for the Promoter, to justify why different standards should apply to operational and construction noise. Mr Thornely-Taylor explained to the Select Committee that the “construction noise threshold matrix” that defines time-dependent values for LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) and SOAEL (significant observed adverse effect level) was “traceable back through all the major projects”. He identified the origins of this approach to “a particular concern by Westminster City Council” when the Jubilee Line Extension project was being built, that “there should be a reduction in levels towards the beginning and end of the day” and that this had now become “established practice” (see footnote 3).

He justified the different approach taken for construction and operational noise as follows (see footnote 4):

“The thing about construction noise is it’s of limited duration, as a consequence of which noise levels that are allowed during the daytime are higher than is the case for permanent noise sources from the operation of railways and highways. There is a general acceptance that people are expected, to put it bluntly, to tolerate more noise from construction sites than from permanent installations, because otherwise nothing would get constructed. If they have tolerated more noise during the day, then there is payback, in that the levels in the evening and the shoulder periods are reduced. It would not be appropriate or necessary to do that for a permanent noise source, where the day time levels are lower.”

You may feel, as I do, that this is not a particularly compelling justification, but there it is!

I believe that I am right in claiming the distinction of being the only person who appeared before the Select Committee, other than Mr Sharps, who raised the matter of greater sensitivity to noise in the evening (see footnote 5) – and I had done so almost nine months before Mr Sharps had his turn. The remedy that I proposed was different to Mr Sharps’: I suggested that the Promoter should employ the day-evening-night equivalent level (Lden) in place of the simple daytime equivalent continuous sound level (LpAeq,07:00-23:00). As I explain in my blog How annoying is that? (posted 18 Oct 2012), using Lden automatically applies a 5dB increase to the impact assessment for noise during the evening period.

Such a methodology is very relevant as being a mechanism that fits in with Mr Thornely-Taylor’s concession, as I reported in the final paragraph of part 24, that “you could apportion the 16-hour day with more noise during the day and less noise during the evening”, albeit that Lden uses a 24-hour rather than a 16-hour time period.

Despite this, Mr Thornely-Taylor has made it clear to the Select Committee on more than one occasion that he is not a great fan of Lden (see footnote 6), which is surprising in view of its endorsement by the European Union (EU) as one of its two “harmonised noise indicators” – the other one is Lnight, which is equivalent to the LpAeq,23:00-07:00 metric employed by HS2 Ltd. I guess that, by now, we have become used to the Promoter’s sage having personal opinions that appear to jar with developing international policy. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that he did not treat my suggestion with any enthusiasm.

If you have the time, take a look at the report in the Select Committee transcript of the interchange between Mr Thornely-Taylor and me (see footnote 7). Whilst I will leave you to form your own conclusion about the rights and wrongs of the views that were expressed, I would like to bring to your attention two assertions that Mr Thornely-Taylor made that appear to arise from, if I may be bold enough to claim it, his misapprehensions of the role and significance of Lden.

In the first place he claimed that “using Lden you don’t see the night separately; you see it all lumped into one through that formula and it is less informative and less helpful” (see footnote 8). This is correct, as far as it goes; it is true that Lden covers the full 24-hour period, but the EU requires Lden to be employed “to assess annoyance”. The EU also requires Lnight to be calculated separately “to assess sleep disturbance”, so Mr Thornely-Taylor’s claim appears to be baseless (see footnote 9).

He also claimed that the “LOAEL and SOAEL levels would, of course, change if they were expressed in terms of Lden to take account of the fact that it was a different scale”, implying that the penalty applied in calculating Lden would be nullified by raising the LOAEL/SOAEL thresholds by an equivalent amount (see footnote 10). If this were to be done, then I would agree with Mr Thornely-Taylor’s view that the whole exercise would be pointless, but it is clearly the whole purpose of applying the penalties that are added in calculating Lden that the numerical values of LOAEL and SOAEL are not adjusted upwards to compensate. To do what Mr Thornely-Taylor is suggesting would be equivalent to handicapping a steeplechaser with weights and then reducing the height of the fences that the horse has to jump.

It is something that I deeply regret that I didn’t have the presence of mind early on that January Wednesday morning to challenge the expert on these two points.

I do find some comfort that, in a rare display of respect for a petitioner’s case, Mr Thornely-Taylor conceded that I did “have a point”, but then, in virtually the same breath, he slapped me down with a typical act of condescension, commenting that “it is a very complex topic and it is quite difficult for a non-expert to get his or her mind around it” (see footnote 11).

So that was me put in my place.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented by Mr Sharps was heard during the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015 (video and transcript).
  2. Table 1 in Appendix A to HS2 Ltd publication High Speed Two Information Paper E23: Control of construction noise and vibration prescribes different values of LOAEL and SOAEL to apply for particular time periods during the day/evening, with the lowest values being specified for the period 19:00 to 22:00.
  3. See paragraph 289 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 290 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  5. See paragraph 16 of my Commons petition 0985.
  6. For example, see paragraph 47 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 8thJuly 2014.
  7. The exchange is reported in paragraphs 157 to 169 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015.
  8. See paragraph 158 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015.
  9. See item 9 in the preamble to EU Directive 2002/49/EC.
  10. See paragraph 164 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015.
  11. See paragraph 169 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21stJanuary 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 include 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 24

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 23, posted on 22 Apr 2016).

In presenting this series so far I have principally followed the evidence given for Chiltern District Council, acting as lead local authority on HS2 operational noise, by acoustician Rick Methold. However, on occasion I have also referred to evidence given to the HS2 Select Committee approximately three weeks prior to Mr Methold’s appearance by fellow acoustics expert Doug Sharps, appearing for the HS2 Action Alliance (see footnote 1). There was a great deal of common ground between these two experts, but Mr Sharps did raise issues that were not in Mr Methold’s evidence, and I will complete my review by concentrating upon a couple of those matters.

The first of these was succinctly summarised by the Alliance’s counsel, Reuben Taylor QC, as the failure of the Promoter’s noise assessment and mitigation proposals to “protect the noise environment in the evening, at a time when children are trying to get to sleep and people want to relax” (see footnote 2).

In his evidence, Mr Sharps explained that there was “a greater sensitivity to noise in the evening for social reasons, and because the [background] noise level during the evening is lower than it is during the day”. He claimed that this effect was recognised by “both government policy and the World Health Organisation” and that “noise criteria during the evening … should be 5-10dB lower than during the daytime”. His solution was to apply “more stringent assessment criteria for the evening than there should be for the day” and he set out on his exhibit A1436(19) proposed values for LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) and SOAEL (significant observed adverse effect level) thresholds to apply during the evening period  that were 5dB lower than the equivalent daytime values. Mr Sharps told the Select Committee that “HS2 itself has separate lower evening LOAEL values in its construction impact assessment, but none for rail noise” (see footnote 3).

In his cross-examination of Mr Sharps, the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, put it to him that “there is no data – in the WHO guidelines or elsewhere – which supports, on the basis of observation, the setting of a different and more challenging LOAEL for evening operation of the railway” (see footnote 4). Whilst Mr Sharps conceded this point, he countered that, nevertheless, “what the WHO guidelines say is that you should adopt a lower guideline value for the evening than the one chosen for the day” (see footnote 5). He also claimed that the Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) required the consideration of, inter alia, “the time of day/evening etc that the noise will occur” (see footnote 6).

Towards the end of the HS2 Action Alliance hearing we heard from Rupert Thornely-Taylor in his capacity as expert acoustics witness for the Promoter. His verdict was that “there isn’t an evidence base” for claiming that sensitivity to noise is greater in the evenings and that “one could say that the reverse is true for some people”. He added (see footnote 7):

“People who are working at home during the day might be more sensitive to noise during the day than in the evening and other people may in fact be relaxing in the evening and making their own noise by watching the television, and there isn’t a fundamental reason for treating the evening differently.”

He also told the Committee (see footnote 8):

“Dose response information, where there have been social surveys of people’s reaction to noise in their environment, is in reality mostly about people’s reactions to noise in the evening, because a great many people are not in their homes during the day time. Those who are are people working at home, who might find the day, as I said, more sensitive than the evening, and other carers and retired people, who might be watching daytime television or what have you, when there is not necessarily any difference between the day time and the evening. In reality, the data we have, from social survey responses into people’s sensitivity to their environment, are actually about the evening, in the main.”

Mr Thornely-Taylor also sought to undermine Mr Sharps’ claim of World Health Organisation (WHO) support for his position on susceptibility to noise in the evenings. The Promoter’s witness referred the Committee to the “main summary table of guideline values” in Guidelines for Community Noise (see footnote 9). He pointed out that there are three instances in that table where recommendations are identified as relating to “daytime and evening”, without any distinction being drawn (see footnote 10). What he conveniently ignored, however, is that section 4.4 of the WHO document, which contains the table of guideline values, includes in the text the recommendation that guideline values for evenings should be 5-10dB lower.

When challenged about this in cross-examination, however, he accepted that the table was “not actually incompatible” with the 5-10dB recommendation as “you could apportion the 16-hour day with more noise during the day and less noise during the evening”, but he reiterated, at the same time, his opinion that this would not be appropriate (see footnote 11).

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented by Mr Sharps was heard during the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015 (video and transcript).
  2. See paragraph 3 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  3. All of the quotes are recorded in paragraph 28 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 151 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  5. See paragraph 156 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015. The WHO recommendation may be found in the final paragraph of section 4.2.7 of Guidelines for Community Noise.
  6. See paragraph 155 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015. Mr Sharps’ claim regarding the NPSE appears somewhat tentative, relying, as it appears to, on a passing reference to “at different times” in paragraph 2.21 in the Explanatory Note and, possibly, a mention of protecting “quiet times” in paragraph 2.25 therein.
  7. See paragraph 230 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  8. See paragraph 295 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  9. On page 65 of Guidelines for Community Noise.
  10. See paragraph 231 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  11. See paragraph 293 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12th October 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 A1436(19) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by Doug Sharps 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 has been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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 23

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 22, posted on 18 Apr 2016).

Rick Methold, the expert acoustics witness appearing before the HS2 Select Committee for Chiltern District Council (CDC), summarised the data in the table that he presented as his exhibit A1571(37) by taking the “net change” total for each of the three rows – that is the total of dwellings suffering an increase in noise of more than 3dB, less the number of dwellings enjoying a noise decrease of more than 3dB. These totals reveal that the Environmental Statement (ES) for HS2 has a net change total of 1407 dwellings, significantly more than the 312 identified in the ES for HS1, which was reduced to 75 after further mitigation had been secured (see footnote 1).

I have to say that I’m not entirely happy with the concept of taking the net increase total; it seems to me that you can’t cancel out one person’s noise increase by another’s noise decrease. I would rather see the increases and decreases totalled separately. Whilst this reduces the disparity between HS1 and HS2 in terms of those suffering a noise increase, it seems a fairer comparison to my mind.

What Mr Methold pointed out to the Committee, however, was that, comparing the assessments in the Environmental Statements on his “net change” basis, HS2 has twice the noise change impacts per route kilometre than HS1 – if you consider just those dwellings suffering a noise increase of more than 3dB, this ratio comes down to one and a third times. He also made the, to my mind somewhat unfair, comparison that the ES HS2 assessment has seven times the noise change impacts per route kilometre than the fully-mitigated HS1.

It is usually good advice if you want to pep up a presentation, to show your audience a multi-coloured pie chart, and Mr Methold did not disappoint by revealing A1571(39) at this stage. This exhibit merely presents the data in the A1571(37) table graphically, but does allow the relative severity of the noise impacts to be appreciated.

Mr Methold pointed out to the Committee that “41% of the noise change impacts on High Speed 1 were reductions” – again he is referring to the fully-mitigated version of HS1 here, the ES figure is 24 per cent. However, whichever of these two figures you take for comparison purposes, HS2 is not in the same league, with only 1 per cent of dwellings expected to see a significant noise reduction. This reflects the extensive use made of existing transportation corridors for the HS1 route – hardly a feature of the HS2 design – and I doubt that further mitigation of HS2, as currently planned, will do much to change this unfavourable comparison.

Exhibit A1571(39) also demonstrates that the noise increases suffered along the HS2 route are expected to be much more severe than HS1 residents encountered. Mr Methold pointed out that “10% of High Speed 2’s impacts are greater than 10 dB increases being compared to 1% for High Speed 1”. He also claimed that “46% of High Speed 2 impacts are greater than 5 dB increases, whereas only 5% was for High Speed 1”. Whilst I have some minor quibbles with Mr Methold’s numbers – I make it 9 per cent greater than 10dB and 45 per cent greater than 5dB for HS2, and would use the ES figures for HS1, increasing the HS1 total above 5dB increase to 8 per cent – I cannot disagree with Mr Methold’s conclusion that there is “a very, very different distribution in the severity of … noise impacts” between HS1 and HS2 (see footnote 2).

Neither would I disagree with the way he summarised his case (see footnote 3):

“… overall the scheme wide predictive effects [for HS2] are considerably worse than HS1, on this analysis, and that is despite HS2 being required to adhere, under national policy, to [mitigate] non-significant adverse effects. We can see that there is considerably lower proportions of noise reductions on High Speed 2, and this we set against other high risk unknowns that we know about High Speed 2.”

Committee Member, Mark Hendrick MP, commented to Mr Methold that it seemed “obvious that a high speed train, like HS2 is going to be noisier than HS1”, and this meant that “the mitigation will need to be that much stronger”. He is, of course, correct on both counts; the problem is that the evidence that we have seen during the Select Committee hearings is that HS2 Ltd is not inclined to offer “strong” mitigation, and, by ignoring all noise increases where the HS2 noise contribution is below LOAEL, is also understating the severity of the problem. It is disappointing that Mr Hendrick appears to have forgotten his observation when it came to writing the Select Committee’s final report (see footnote 4).

Before finally putting this issue of the differences between HS1 and HS2 to bed, Mr Methold tackled the twin arguments that had been advanced by HS2 Ltd, based upon experience of HS1, that noise from HS1 trains has not been seen as a problem:

  • That there had been no complaints from residents near the route of HS1. According to Mr Methold “complaints aren’t the only indicator of the existence of a noise, many people won’t complain, but they will still be annoyed”. He identified three possible views that might lie behind a resident’s reluctance to complain: a feeling that nothing can be done, a fear that a complaint may reduce the value of their property, and the hope that someone else will complain for them (see footnote 5).
  • That there are no successful Land Compensation Act Part 1 claims from High Speed 1. Mr Methold said that he didn’t regard this as “a very good indicator” as “a lot of them get settled before they are moved to formal lands tribunals” (see footnote 6).

Finally, just in case you are wondering what the views on this topic are of the Promoter’s noise expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, it would appear, from the evidence that he gave on the same day as Mr Methold’s appearance, that he recognises the differences that the CDC witness had identified. When invited to consider whether research into the effects of HS1 noise would be relevant to the HS2 case, he responded that he thought that this would involve “so many caveats, as to leave us with as much uncertainty as there is” (see footnote 7).

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 255 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. Mr Methold noted that there was a discrepancy between the net change total of 1407 that he had quoted for HS2 and the corresponding total of 1,850 that is identified in the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for HS2. He said that his work had “not been able to replicate that number”, but that, at least, his figure was “erring on the side of caution”. The paragraphs in the HIA that quote the higher total are 2.2.3 and 5.6.16.
  2. Mr Methold’s observations on exhibit A1571(39) are recorded in paragraph 259 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  3. See paragraph 260 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. See paragraphs 262 to 264 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. See also paragraph 326 of the HS2 Select Committee’s Second Special Report of Session 2015–16.
  5. See paragraph 270 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  6. See paragraph 271 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  7. See the discussion reported in paragraphs 144 to 151 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4th November 2015.

Acknowledgements:

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

Exhibits A1571(37) and A1571(39) have 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 22

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 21, posted on 14 Apr 2016).

The main problem with getting the HS2 Select Committee to appreciate that there could be noise issues when HS2 is running, is the apparent perception amongst its Members that there isn’t a noise problem with HS1 and, ergo, there shouldn’t be one with HS2 either. This sentiment has been expressed to petitioners appearing before the Committee on a number of occasions, mainly by the Chairman. Indeed, Mr Syms told Rick Methold, the expert acoustics witness for Chiltern District Council, that Members of Parliament that represent Kent constituencies “say that they don’t get many complaints at all”. He conceded that the construction phase had been “difficult”, but that the noise from train operations was something that “people don’t really notice that much” (see footnote 1).

A number of petitioners have sought to dispel this perception by pointing out some essential differences in nature between HS2 and its HS1 forerunner. For example, Doug Sharps, the expert witness who appeared for the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) in October last, identified these differences as (see footnote 2):

  • Unlike HS2, the HS1 route follows existing transport corridors, so there is “an enormous difference in the existing noise climate”. Mr Sharps told the Committee that “background and ambient noise levels [for HS1] are in excess of 50dB for probably about 85% of the route”, whereas the background noise level at the seventeen villages and towns along the HS2 route that he had surveyed was around 30 to 35dB.
  • The planned train frequency for HS2 is “much greater” than on HS1.
  • It is planned that HS2 trains will start earlier in the day and run later into the night than HS1.
  • HS2 trains will be “much faster” than HS1.

Mr Sharps told the Committee that, for these four reasons, “in terms of noise implications, HS2 will be much more invasive”.

For his part, Mr Methold was able to add to this list when he appeared in front of the Committee: he pointed out that the lack of intermediate stations on HS2 would mean that the speed profiles achieved by trains would be closer to maximum speed for much longer meaning that, compared with HS1, HS2 was “a very different type of railway in that regard” (see footnote 3). Mr Methold was also able to make a significant contribution to the discussion by reinforcing this purely qualitative evidence with some enlightening quantitative information.

He showed the Committee exhibit A1571(35), explaining that it showed “the existing noise condition before railways appear”, termed the “baseline noise”, for both HS1 and HS2. He told the Committee that the level of this baseline noise was shown on the horizontal axis, and that “the other axis [shows] the percentage of the assessment locations exceeding that baseline [level]”. According to Mr Methold (see footnote 4):

“… if we look at the green dotted line, which is a baseline of 50dB, we can see that High Speed 2 baselines [the red curve], 59% of all the assessment locations are above 50dB. Whereas for High Speed 1, 93% of the High Speed 1 baselines [the blue curve] were above 50dB … this figure is showing that we have a very different situation in terms of route-wide existing noise levels just before the projects were planned.”

Faced with this fairly convincing demonstration that at least the first of the four bullet points set out above is valid, Robert Syms raised another of his cliché-like defences of HS2: “20% of the railway is tunnelled”. Mr Methold assured him that the fact was “obviously accounted for in [A1571(35)]” – I think that what he meant by this is that there are no HS2 airborne operational noise assessment locations above tunnels, so tunnels become automatically excluded from the analysis, which relates to surface sections of the route only (see footnote 5).

It surely comes as no surprise that, since HS2 will be running noisier, more frequent trains over more hours per day than HS1 and through previously quieter environments, generally, it can be expected that the former will have greater adverse effects upon residents living along the route than the latter. This was something that Mr Methold was able to quantify with his exhibit A1571(37). Mr Methold told the Committee that HS1 had relied on “noise change only” in order to identify its impacts and effects, and the table shown in A1571(37) provides a comparison between HS1 and HS2 on this same basis (see footnote 6).

Mr Methold’s table has three rows of data. He told the Committee that the first row related to “what was published in High Speed 1’s Environmental Statement” and the second row showed “how the scheme ended up being deployed … including all of the additional mitigation commitments that were offered through the Parliamentary process”. The third row, which relates to HS2, is “what is published in High Speed 2’s Environmental Statement”; Mr Methold noted that, unlike HS1, data is not yet available to enable him to “adjust [the HS2] numbers to take into account any further mitigation commitments that have been made during the Parliamentary process” (see footnote 7).

The table reveals a factor that may not be immediately obvious; the installation of a high speed railway can result in a decrease in the total noise impact on some receptors. Mr Methold explained that opportunities to do this for HS1 arose “because it was alongside transportation corridors” affording, for example, “opportunities to put noise barriers in locations that were [also] protecting the existing railways [and] existing motorways” (see footnote 8).

Mr Methold’s table provides figures of the total number of dwellings experiencing a noise change in each of five level bands, one for decrease and four different bands of increase. For the purposes of his analysis, a level change of between -3dB (decrease) and +3dB (increase) has been regarded as no change.

In the next posting in this series, I will report what Mr Methold had to say about the figures in his table.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 246 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  2. See exhibit A1436(4) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by HS2AA and paragraphs 15 and 16 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  3. See paragraph 250 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. See paragraph 228 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. Mr Methold explained to the Committee that noise levels used to construct the curves displayed on exhibit A1571(35) had been calculated as 24-hour Leq values, “because that was the metric that was used for High Speed 1”. He did not provide a conversion factor to the 16-hour LAeq used for HS2, but this information is not really required in order to appreciate the significance of the two curves.
  5. See paragraphs 243 and 244 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  6. See paragraph 252 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. Unlike HS2, the noise policy for HS1 set no minimum threshold level below which adverse impacts are ignored.
  7. See paragraph 253 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The main mitigation improvement achieved, which is likely to reduce the HS2 figures to some extent, is the extension of the Chiltern tunnel.
  8. See paragraph 259 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee 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.

Exhibits A1571(35) and A1571(37) have 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 21

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 20, posted on 9 Mar 2016).

At the end of the section of his evidence considering the need for caution when assessing the annoyance resulting from noise from high speed trains, Rick Methold summed up the position of Chiltern District Council (CDC), lead authority on airborne noise representing the Local Authority Noise Consortium, by showing the HS2 Select Committee his exhibit A1571(54). He didn’t really speak to this slide – as we know Sir Peter Bottomley can read faster than any of us can speak and discouraged witnesses from reading what appears on the screens before the Committee – so I will attempt to provide my own summary of Mr Methold’s position.

The nub of what Mr Methold told the Committee is that the current state of knowledge from research on this topic did not allow definitive conclusions to be reached, and that HS2 Ltd agreed that this was the case. Mr Methold referred to there not being “an optimum amount of information on high speed rail dose response” (see footnote 1). It is hoped, however, that more knowledge will come to light as the HS2 project evolves, and that the nominated undertaker will take account of any developments to correct the information on noise effects that has been published to date. In the meantime, in the light of this dearth of conclusive knowledge, Mr Methold opined that the precautionary principle should apply. He expressed the view that the setting of noise thresholds and limits for high speed trains was “treated more cautiously by other high speed railway operators and promoters” than had been the case for the HS2 project.

This topic received another, albeit brief, airing when CDC’s counsel, Gwion Lewis, was given the opportunity to cross-examine the Promoter’s expert acoustics witness, Rupert Thornely-Taylor. The exchange kicked off with Mr Thornely-Taylor being asked to confirm Mr Methold’s point that on the “question of annoyance from high speed trains” there is not as much information “available about high speed rail, as there is for other transportation modes” and that there were no plans on the part of the UK Government to commission research into this topic. Mr Thornely-Taylor was able to signify his agreement to both of these assertions (see footnote 2).

The promoter’s expert also appeared to agree that assessing the annoyance response to high speed train noise was an area where caution should be exercised, but pointed out that HS2 Ltd had not “claimed the rail bonus” for the work that it had done (see footnote 3).

Whilst Mr Thornely-Taylor did not explicitly make the claim, the implication of what he said is that assuming that the annoyance response for HS2 would be the same as for road traffic was sufficiently precautionary. The relevant question becomes, therefore, “is he correct?”

Turning that question on its head, I think that it would have been unsupportable if HS2 Ltd had claimed a noise annoyance correction factor (NACF). The percentage values of the annoyance response curves for road and conventional rail differ very little at the proposed LOAEL threshold levels, and ISO 1996 specifically states that you shouldn’t claim a NACF for high speed rail (see footnote 4). Mr Thornely-Taylor, it appears, can also claim the support of the French; as Mr Methold told us, the precautionary measure taken there when dealing with high speed rail has also been not to claim a NACF. On the other hand, the Zhejiang University research paper that I reference in footnote 6 to part 20 of this blog series, would appear to suggest that the French have not gone far enough, since that research indicates that the annoyance response for high speed rail is 7dB worse than conventional rail consistently across the range of levels.

It’s quite hard to take sides on this one, and it is most unfortunate – or perhaps I mean shameful – that the Government appears not to be prepared to be proactive in trying to bring more certainty into the debate, by ensuring that some new research papers on this topic from some of our well-renowned centres of learning become available in the not-too-distant future. A project the size of HS2 should be endowed with a large research budget, and this does not appear to be the case, sadly.

Mr Methold appears to be pinning his hopes on some future breakthrough that will prove definitive justification that a “penalty correction” should be applied to the calculations made to date, and that the nominated undertaker will apply such a correction under the terms of the assurance that has been given, and which I reported in part 2 of this blog series, that the project will “account for any new High Speed railway noise research during detailed design”.

I guess that time will tell, but I still harbour the doubts on this score that I expressed in part 2; somehow I think that we might see hell freeze over first.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 342 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The text of this paragraph contains an error. Comparison with the video (at 11:24hrs) reveals that what Mr Methold said is that “there isn’t an optimum amount of information on high speed rail dose response”.
  2. See paragraphs 129 to 132 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  3. See paragraphs 137 and 138 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. For more on ISO 1996 please refer to part 20 of this blog series.

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(54) 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.

 

That’s it then, we’re off, part 7

(… continued from That’s it then, we’re off, part 6 posted on 6 Apr 2016).

In this final part of the current series I will complete my examination of the issues with the hybrid bill select committee process that I listed in part 6.

In contrast to the absence of any radical suggestions to improve the hybrid bill select committee procedures in the final report, the Select Committee does claim that it would be possible to address the problems that it has identified with petitioning “through some quite easily achievable procedural changes” (see footnote 1). The final report identifies two specific areas where such changes might be made: the petition deposit process, and rights of audience and the conduct of hearings.

In its deliberations on the petition deposit process, the Select Committee favours the retention of the petitioning fee on the grounds that it serves to “discourage speculative or spurious petitioning” (see footnote 2). Whilst some petitioners, I know, regarded the fee as an unwarranted imposition, I tend to side with the Select Committee, although the considerable hassle that was involved in authoring and depositing a petition in the House of Commons was probably sufficient deterrent for most. On the actual mechanics of depositing a petition, the Committee does not see deposit in person as necessary and suggests that the Commons should move to an electronic system; the email-based process devised for the House of Lords would appear to be a good model for the Commons to adopt (see footnote 3).

The emphasis of the Select Committees views on changing petitioners’ rights of audience and procedures for the conduct of hearings is to reduce the time spent in public hearing sessions. On rights of audience, the final report suggests three changes that I broadly support (see footnote 4):

  • That “strong guidelines on acceptable locus should be set out before the establishment of the Committee and before petitioning starts”
  • That the locus standi challenge process should be conducted in writing, as far as is possible, but with the option for an oral hearing
  • That the House authorities should adjudicate on locus challenges, with the Committee having an ultimate review function

The final report appears to suggest that the oral hearing and locus review options should only be exercised at the behest of the Committee. If this what is being suggested, then my view is that this would not be equitable, and that the petitioner should have an equivalent right to enforce these options.

The final report makes a number of suggestions to modify the procedures for hearing petitions in person. The Committee’s proposals for greater certainty relating to the powers of a select committee and for more practical rules for appointing representative agents may, I think, be warmly welcomed. However, I am far less enthusiastic with the suggestions aimed at streamlining the hearing of petitions in person and reducing the quantity of written evidence; there is a real danger that petitioners’ rights could be eroded by these proposals. I support the idea of giving written submissions equal weight to appearing in person, but do not agree with the corollary drawn in the final report “that oral submissions should be restricted to those principally affected” (see footnote 5).

The final report claims that it is wrong to believe “that there is a democratic right for everyone who wants to show up to have their say to repeat issues for as long as it takes” (see footnote 6). Whilst I don’t want to defend deliberate filibustering, I would urge caution in unduly restricting the right to be heard, on the grounds that it risks perpetrating injustice and lack of even-handedness in the treatment of petitioners with similar complaints – how can it be equitable for the first petitioner on a particular issue to be heard, whilst the tenth wishing to speak on that issue is denied an audience?

And that leaves my four additional issues, not mentioned in the final report, but which I identified in part 6.

My first point concerns long sittings. The usual practice in the Royal Courts of Justice is for courts to sit for around five hours a day (10.30am to 4.30pm, with an hour for lunch). It is unreasonable to expect a panel to be suitably alert and attentive for much longer than this. It is also unfair to petitioners being heard, who may be faced with impatient or irascible Committee Members towards the end of long sessions, and also put under pressure to be unreasonably brief due to time constraints.

My second point is those wretched handheld computers and communication devices that we all seem to be unable to be parted from these days. I am sure that none of my readers would ever be in the position, but just imagine if you were in the dock in Crown Court and looked across at the judge to see her/him reading emails and the jury members checking messages and sending texts on their smartphones. It would not be acceptable there – you would be justified in thinking that you are not being given a fair trial – and it should be equally unacceptable behaviour by MPs sitting in a quasi-judicial hearing in Parliament. The same applies to reading documents that are not associated with the hearing in progress.

My third point is that the average Member of Parliament is ill-equipped to adjudicate on complex planning issues that may involve difficult legal, technical and environmental considerations. Our national planning system relies heavily on professionals, with decisions either being devolved to qualified planning specialists or made by elected representatives on the advice of professionals. And yet, for our large public infrastructure projects our MPs appear to think that they can, unaided, substitute for this well-tried system. It’s rather like asking a motor mechanic to tune a grand piano!

In part 6 of this blog series I suggested that the solution to this weakness in the hybrid bill process was “not to entrust the planning inquiry function to MPs at all, but to a non-parliamentary expert body”. Such a body already exists in the Planning Inspectorate, which as an executive agency has at least a degree of independence from the Government. If the Planning Inspectorate were required to carry out a full public inquiry before a hybrid bill is deposited in Parliament, then MPs and Lords would only be required to consider its recommendations as a part of the bill deliberations, rather than having to hear petitioners. As well as meaning that issues raised receive expert consideration this would, as I mentioned in part 6, relieve time pressures on MPs.

My final point is that the hybrid bill process fails to meet contemporary standards for environmental protection, and I have particularly in mind what the then Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley, cited as “the failure to take on board the formal requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment [Directive]” (see footnote 7). She also said that the Supreme Court had “a clear expectation that Parliament will ensure that the Hybrid Bill process will deliver the requirements of the environmental assessment directives”. It is clear that the parliamentary process has not delivered on this expectation for HS2 Phase 1. An obvious, and necessary, change to this process to bring it in line with the environmental protection provided for non-public projects would be to require a strategic environmental assessment to have been completed before the bill is deposited in Parliament.

So that’s what I think. I would be really interested to hear from my readers what they think, so please don’t be shy to use the comment facility to let me, and other readers, know.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 384 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  2. See paragraph 391 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  3. See paragraphs 389 and 390 in the Select Committee’s final report and page 7 of the Lords Petitioning Kit Guide.
  4. See paragraphs 394 and 395 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  5. See paragraphs 396 to 400 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  6. See paragraph 385 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  7. See the letter dated 13thMay 2014 from Joan Walley to Robert Syms MP.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers