Facing a brick wall, part 2

(… continued from Facing a brick wall, part 1, posted on 27 Sep 2015).

In part 1 I mentioned that I had raised the issue of the mix of free-field and façade sound level measurement methodologies in the HS2 Ltd assessments when I found myself presenting my petition to the HS2 Select Committee early on this year. It was a fairly chaotic session; I was thrown into some disarray, due the intervention of one Member of the Committee, and I must confess that I am still smarting from the treatment that I received (see footnote 1). As a result of the tactics that were employed – yes I feel that “tactics” is an appropriate description –I fear that I may not have presented my evidence in the most convincing way. I was also faced with a fairly relentless refusal by the Promoter’s expert witness, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, to concede anything that might possibly be to the disadvantage of his client; I really felt that it was me that had been placed in front of a brick wall, rather than the sound level meter, and that the brick wall wasn’t the only façade that was being erected!

Mr Thornely-Taylor’s response to my query about the free-field/façade confusion deserves reproducing in full in order that you may fully admire the sheer effrontery of his defence of the HS2 Ltd position (see footnote 2):

“The Lmax is to be determined at the façade, which means there has to be a numerical correction between the general ES approach predicting free field noise levels, but façade corrections are dependent on the façade, whether it is facing the source or away from the source. You cannot plot contours of façade LAmax with precision. You have to plot free field contours and I think that would cause more confusion than assistance because of the need for the inexpert reader to understand about façade corrections and you do see all the LA maxes in the detailed ES volumes for each assessment location.”

Overall, the excuse appears to be that finding a satisfactory solution to the current muddle is filed in the “too hard to do” box. On the positive side, his first sentence does appear to concur with much that I said in part 1, and we also both agree that you cannot determine the façade level “with precision”. Notwithstanding, there is a generally-agreed method of deriving a representative façade level from the free-field measurement – the increasing of the level by a fixed number of decibels, which I referred to in part 1 by reference to PPG24 – but he makes no acknowledgement of that approach. In making his references to the plotting of “contours of façade LAmax” and “free field contours [of LAmax]” he seems to have forgotten that HS2 Ltd has steadfastly refused to provide any plots of LpAFMax whatsoever, whether façade or free-field, and his concern that clearing up the matter “would cause more confusion than assistance” is barely credible; what could be more confusing than the situation that we have at present, which appears to have tripped up even one of the expert witnesses that we have heard (see footnote 3).

As I pointed out to the Committee (see footnote 4), Mr Thornely-Taylor’s position that façade corrections are too confusing for the likes of us appears to be significantly undermined by the ES, which describes how a free-field value of baseline noise was determined for the ES Volume 5 tables when the measurement location did not allow a free-field measurement to be made directly. The ES explains:

“Where baseline data has been obtained from measurement positions that are not free‐field (taken to be within 3.5m from all reflecting surfaces other than the ground), measurements have been undertaken at a distance of 1m from the reflecting surface and a correction of ‐1.5dB for LpAeq,T and ‐2.5dB for LpAFmax applied to the data where railway noise is the dominant source, or a correction of ‐3dB applied where all other sources are dominant.”

Applying the inverse of this process, it is clear that the free-field peak level predictions of operational airborne noise that are listed in the tables in Appendix 5 to the ES may be “converted” to façade levels by simply adding 2.5dB, and it is these increased levels that should be compared with the LOAEL threshold of 60dB LpAFMax. This is clearly important as it means that the peak noise predictions, with respect to LOAEL, are 2.5dB worse than might be first thought.

After a bit of a verbal tussle with Mr Thornely-Taylor, during which I expect that we managed to lose most, if not all, Members of the Select Committee, he finally conceded that the façade levels would be higher than the free-field figures reproduced in the ES (see footnote 5).

So what might this mean? How, for example, does it affect the plot of train maximum pass-by contours that acoustician Steve Summers prepared and presented in his evidence to the Select Committee and that I reproduce below?

Section of HS2 Select Committee Exhibit A1212(12)

Section of HS2 Select Committee Exhibit A1212(12)

As I mention in footnote 3, it is my contention that Mr Summers constructed this plot using free-field levels. If I am right about this, then 2.5dB should be added to every value if we want the 60dB contour to coincide with LOAEL. Doing this will shift the green line further to the left, meaning that many more properties in Wendover will fall the wrong side of the LOAEL contour. The 70dB contour that Mr Summers has shown in red will also shift to the left, encroaching further into the town.

So please bear this in mind when giving evidence to the Select Committee. Ensure that you quote façade levels if you are comparing maximum train pass-by levels with the LOAEL threshold and make sure that the Promoter does the same.


  1. The hearing for my individual petition was held on the morning of Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015, and I am first on in the video of that session. To get a feel for the way that I was “invited” to present my case refer to paragraph 5 and paragraph 9 to paragraph 36 of the transcript.
  2. See paragraph 94 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015.
  3. Steve Summers appeared to be quoting free-field levels and made no comment about the significance of the LOAEL threshold being specified as a facade level when he gave his evidence to the HS2 Select Committee on the afternoon of Tuesday 14thJuly 2015.
  4. See paragraph 110 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21st January 2015. The reference to the ES is paragraph 1.3.8 in SV-001-000 Annex B (page 3).
  5. See paragraphs 152 to 156 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 21st January 2015.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd route design and noise contours are overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

Facing a brick wall, part 1

The middle of a large field is probably a good place to take measurements of ambient noise with a sound level meter, although I notice that, for some reason, HS2 Ltd acousticians prefer to set their meters up beside busy roads. The reason why the field is to be preferred is that it should be fairly devoid of reflecting surfaces that might cause local sound wave reflections that could distort the measurement. Measurements that are made in the absence of such local reflections are termed “free-field”, and all of the noise figures in the tables in the sound, noise and vibration section of Volume 5 of the HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement (ES), whether they be empirical or predicted, are expressed as free-field values (see footnote 1).

Whilst people do sometimes sleep in fields, either due to misfortune or for recreation, acousticians assume that, for the purposes of assessing the sleep disturbance potential of noise, sleep takes place in a bedroom. Whilst this seems a reasonable assumption, the parallel supposition that people sleep only at night is probably far less justifiable given the demands of modern living and shift work in particular. But I will pass over this particular objection, as it is the assumption about the bedroom upon which I wish to concentrate in this posting.

Bedrooms may be thought of as a volume enclosed by walls, a floor and a ceiling, and it is the noise that enters into this enclosed space from a noise source outside of the bedroom that gives rise to sleep disturbance effects. It is most convenient for this purpose to think of the bedroom as having one external wall facing the noise source and for the noise to be entering the room through this wall, which is referred to as the “most exposed façade”. A commonly-encountered way of assessing the noise level that will be present within the bedroom is to predict the noise pressure that will be incident upon the exterior of the most exposed façade and reduce it by the degree of sound insulation afforded by the external wall that forms the façade, expressed in decibels. This implies that it is the external incident sound level that is important, and this dictates that a so-called “façade” measurement is required; this is achieved in practice by setting up the sound level meter just in front of the façade of the external wall, typically at a distance of one metre from the wall.

HS2 Ltd has followed this convention in High Speed Two Information Paper E20 in defining the Significant Observed Adverse Effect Level (SOAEL) and Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL) at night in terms of the maximum level of a single train pass-by, LpAFMax, in that this level has been specified as a façade measurement. For reasons that I can’t begin to understand, but which I am sure could be satisfactorily explained by an acoustician, when LOAEL and SOAEL have been defined in terms of the day and night continuous equivalent sound levels, LpAeq,16hr and LpAeq,8hr, free-space levels have been specified (see footnote 2).

What is important to recognise is that a sound level meter will, when measuring sound levels emanating from the same source, tend to register a different level when used in free-space configuration to what it will record when set up to make a façade measurement. The reason for this is perhaps best understood by returning to the sound level meter that I described at the start of this posting, which is sitting in the middle of a field happily registering the free-field sound level. If we were able instantly to construct a wall just behind the sound level meter, with respect to the source of the noise, we would likely find that the measurement will change. The reason for this is that the wall will act as a sound reflector and send sound energy back towards the sound level meter.

The impact that the façade will have upon sound level meter readings can only confidently be predicted by complex analysis of each individual case, and depends upon a number of factors including the size of the wall, the angle that it makes with the line connecting it to the noise source and the distances involved; it will also vary across the frequency spectrum. However, the literature encourages us to regard the effect as one of increasing the level measured and to employ a fixed value to convert from façade to free-field and vice versa (see footnote 3).

However, what we appear to be faced with when consulting the HS2 Ltd documentation is a total failure to take the façade effect into account when it comes to assessing impacts, or even, for the most part, to acknowledge that the effect exists, and this omission has been repeated countless times in front of the HS2 Select Committee when the Promoter’s legal team have quoted predicted and measured sound levels to petitioners. Without exception, all of the levels that I have heard quoted have been free-field and, in the case of the train pass-by thresholds, experts, lawyers, petitioners and Committee Members alike have, almost to a man/woman, failed to comment that the LOAEL and SOAEL thresholds to which they are comparing them are expressed in coin of a different currency.

It all seems a bit of a mess to me and one which is – surprise, surprise – serving to understate the impact of the train pass-by noise. Since, by the time that I was given a slot before the HS2 Select Committee in January this year, nobody had mentioned this issue, I determined that it would be one of the matters that I would raise, but for a report on that you will have to wait until part 2 of this blog.

(To be concluded …)


  1. In the case of the operational noise assessment, that all of the figures in the ES are expressed as free-field values is confirmed in paragraph 1.3.7 in Annex B to Appendix SV-001-000 of the ES (for baseline data) and paragraph 1.1.15 in Annex D2 of that appendix (for the predictions of operational noise).
  2. That the LpAFMax thresholds for SOAEL and LOAEL are expressed as façade levels is explicitly stated in paragraphs 15 and 18 of Appendix A to Information Paper E20 and in Table 1 in Appendix B. That the LpAeq thresholds are all free-field may be inferred from footnote 5 to Appendix A and footnote 9 to Appendix B.
  3. Take, for example, the guidance in paragraph 9 in Annex A of Planning Policy Guidance 24 (PPG24), which I understand is still used by local authorities despite being superseded by the Planning Practice Guidelines. This paragraph advises that “façade levels should be assumed to be 3 dB(A) higher than levels measured away from any buildings [i.e. free-field levels], unless a more accurate figure is available”.


Cubbington goes national

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I never miss an opportunity to mention Cubbington’s champion veteran pear tree (for example, see Another walk in the woods, posted 29 May 2011). I am sure that you will understand therefore that I was absolutely delighted to learn that our tree had been shortlisted, along with nine others, for the England’s Tree of the Year Competition 2015 organised by the Woodland Trust. Details of the competition, the reasons the Cubbington tree was nominated and recent events concerning the tree have been excellently summarised in a blog posted by Joe Rukin on the Stop HS2 website, so I won’t bore you by repeating all that here, but I would like to give my personal perspective on why I think it is important that anyone who shares my concerns about the damage that HS2 would inflict on our natural environment joins me in voting for the Cubbington tree.

Although the Cubbington tree is a fairly old specimen of its species – estimates put it at between 200 and 300 years, so we generally say 250 years – it is almost a sapling compared to one of the magnificent trees that it finds itself in competition with; this rival is an oak that could be as much as 1,200 years old, so it might have been about the same age as our tree is now when William the Conqueror was lording it over the Anglo-Saxons. Our veteran pear is also up against trees of great historical significance, such as the sycamore under which the Tolpuddle Martyrs are said to have assembled to form their trade union.

So why do I think that an upstart plant from a village in Warwickshire that has no particular claim to historical fame – except that it is thought that a group of men involved in the gunpowder plot, including ringleader Robert Catesby, passed through when fleeing from London after the arrest of Guy Fawkes – should be worthy of your vote?

The one feature that singles the Cubbington tree out from the opposition is that it appears to be the only one of the bunch that is under threat of destruction from development. Also it is associated with many others, outside and within woodlands, that are under similar threat from the planned development of HS2. This means that a vote for our tree is far more significant than expressing a preference for the qualities of the tree alone; the tree can serve as a potent symbol for the cataclysmic damage that HS2 would inflict on our natural environment. What we hope that every vote for our tree will be is a signal to the Government that says, “What on earth are you thinking of?”.

Our local community has been down the route of making our case that the pear tree and nearby ancient woodland should be saved from HS2 by petitioning the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill and presenting to the Select Committee in January this year. Judging by the contents of the Committee’s First Special Report of Session 2014–15 its Members were totally unmoved by our pleadings. So we really need to take our case for the pear tree, as representative of all the trees that HS2 would kill, to the people of this fair land; I see the England’s Tree of the Year competition as a valuable first brick in the wall of publicity that we must build in order to drive our campaign home.

By just being in the competition our tree will receive some valuable attention, and we are doing our best to maximise the publicity that this will engender. However, winning would really allow us to ramp up the publicity and truly sock it to the forces of evil that are hovering around our tree and countless others.

So please, please vote for Cubbington’s veteran pear tree before the closing date of 12th October 2015.


Not enough hours in the day

When I first clapped eyes on the published programme of the Phase 1 HS2 Select Committee for October and November I felt that someone was, to say the least, being rather overambitious. Taking just the first day, Monday 7th September, I counted 53 petitions listed, although what I suspect was a combination of arm twisting by programme manager David Walker and masses of goodwill from petitioners had allowed some grouping of petitions to reduce the number of separate hearings to 31. It appeared that a long day was in prospect, and this was clearly anticipated in the programme; instead of the usual Monday hours of 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm and 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm being specified, the note on the programme ominously just said “from 2.00 pm”.

Being concerned that time constraints would mean that petitioners from within the Chilterns AONB were in danger of being short-changed by the Select Committee, I determined to monitor the whole day’s proceedings. It was fortunate for me that the watch on demand service on Parliament TV allowed me to do this in manageable bites.

Just what the motivation was in trying to cram so much into the Committee’s day is not totally clear to me. I can understand, and even be sympathetic, if some members of the Committee – but surely not the three who have only recently been appointed – are becoming somewhat fatigued with the whole process, and wish to see it all ended as soon as possible. The Chairman gave some hint that this may be the case in his prologue to the day’s session; he reminded the gathering that the Committee had already sat for 336 hours over 71 days. I also suspect that, although the Committee is theoretically its own master, one cannot rule out the ever-present figures of the Government whips hovering in the background, exerting influence on the Committee to get the inescapable Committee Stage out of the way as quickly as possible. However, I really can’t see that saving the odd day or two is worth risking the fairness of the process to the petitioners who have taken the considerable trouble that is necessary to qualify to appear in Committee Room 5.

The other reason that I strongly doubt the good faith of the September and October sessions planned for the Select Committee is that the die appears to be already cast in that the Committee issued a statement in July, which appears to indicate a fairly set position – yes I know that it says that the statement is made “without prejudging the arguments … from future petitioners”, but come on!. The process is, we have been told, quasi-judicial, but I don’t think that it is normal practice in the courts for the judge to deliver a verdict, however tentative, mid-way through the presentation of evidence.

The day began ominously for petitioners, with Select Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, expressing the hope that petitioners would “avoid going over familiar ground” and warning that ”if necessary” he would “be intervening to avoid venturing into areas that have already been covered”. He also cautioned petitioners that they “should be careful not to stray outside the content of their petition” and notified them that he would “be calling people to order if they do so”. He also said (see footnote 1):

“We have community action groups making the points for many areas so, from individuals, we want succinct, punchy presentations that focus sharply and precisely on individual points, a sort of who, what, why and how it impacts on you. We have a lot to get through, and we expect petitioners high up the programme to be concise enough to allow petitioners at the end of the day to be heard as well.”

Excluding breaks for a short adjournments and a number of divisions in the Commons Chamber, the Committee sat for a total of eight and a half hours that Monday, of which 7 hrs 19 mins was devoted to hearing petitions. The remaining time was taken by statements and presentations by the Promoter, who obviously did not share the Chairman’s sense of urgency.

As the result of the inevitable last-minute changes in the list and no-shows the Committee actually listened to sixteen separate petition hearings, involving forty-four petitions plus another three that are identified as not appearing but associated with petitions heard in the list published by the Select Committee. The first petition hearing – involving Halton Parish Council – having taken more than two hours, there was about five hours for the remaining fifteen hearings, an average of twenty minutes per hearing.

In my view, there were signs of petitioners feeling this time pressure and, consequently perhaps, being compromised in making their respective cases – I feel that this particularly applied in the case of the final two petition hearings. Surprisingly, only those presenting one group of petitions registered any protest about their treatment, and I must confess some admiration for the refusal of Sandra MacDonald and Susan Newman to be browbeaten by, in particular, Sir Peter Bottomley, but, at the same time, feel that they actually fared better than everyone else in taking up more than an hour of Committee time (see footnote 2).

Having watched all of the day’s proceedings, my verdict is that, whilst the Committee sailed perilously close to the line marking the point where treatment of petitioners might be regarded as unfair, the hearings did not actually cross over that line on any occasion.

I have some misgivings about the calling of witnesses, however. In his introductory remarks the Chairman set out a procedure for calling witnesses that appeared to recognise that it was unreasonable to expect petitioners awaiting their turn to remain within earshot at all times during a long day (see footnote 3). In all, three petitioners failed to answer the Chairman’s call and were, consequently, not heard. However, in apparent contravention of the Chairman’s procedure, these three were not called a second time – perhaps it had been established that they were either no shows, or had given up waiting as the evening dragged on – whatever, you might have expected him to stick to his own rules, even if only for appearance’s sake.

I am also not a fan of late-night sessions. I appreciate that late nights are run-of-the-mill for politicians – the Chairman explained to petitioners that, “The House is going to be sitting until 12.30 a.m. on European business, so we are here anyway” (see footnote 4) – but there are practical difficulties in getting home from Westminster around midnight. At least this point also appears to have been recognised by either the promoter or the parliamentary authorities, since the Chairman announced, rather late in proceedings, that “there is a coach which will be going back to Buckinghamshire” (see footnote 5). Travel difficulties aside though, I think that it risks being unfair to petitioners to expect them to be at Westminster at 2 pm when they may not be called until approaching midnight.

On a subsequent occasion the bane of politicians, a microphone inadvertently left open, caught Mr Syms advising a colleague that he was “just going to knock off a few [petition hearings] quickly” before adjourning for lunch (see footnote 5). Whilst I appreciate that it is hard for Members to regard the petitioning process as anything other than an irksome task to be endured, I regard it as important for them to recognise the importance of each and every hearing to the petitioner(s) concerned and the often considerable commitment of time and effort (physical and emotional) that has been invested in that hearing. Petitioners should not feel that they have been short-changed in this process; unreasonably long sessions crammed with many petitions carry a significant risk that this will be the case.


  1. Mr Syms’ opening remarks are recorded in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the transcript for the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on 7thSeptember 2015.
  2. Ms MacDonald complained that she was “being really rushed through” presenting her case and that she felt that she was, consequently, “not doing a service to” the petitioners she was representing. Mrs Newman complained that Ms MacDonald had “been hardly sat down before you’re telling her to hurry up and get on with it”. She also observed that it wasn’t their “fault” if the Committee “haven’t left enough time for people”. See paragraphs 226 and 244 of the transcript for the evening session of the HS2 Select Committee held on 7thSeptember 2015.
  3. This procedure is set out in paragraph 5 of the transcript for the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on 7thSeptember 2015.
  4. The Chairman’s announcement was made at 11.12 pm and is recorded in paragraph 594 of the transcript for the evening session of the HS2 Select Committee held on 7thSeptember 2015.
  5. Unsurprisingly, the Chairman’s remark is not recorded in the transcript for the session concerned (the morning of Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015). It can, however, be clearly heard at 12:30 hrs in the video.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are 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.

It should be child’s play, part 2

(… continued from It should be child’s play, part 1, posted on 11 Sep 2015).

As I mentioned in part 1, Natural England has recently accepted some of the woodlands that would be affected by HS2 onto the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI). The answer to a House of Commons written question published on 7th July 2015 identifies sixteen new entries on the inventory that are “near the route of Phase 1 of High Speed 2”.

Just a handful of days later, the HS2 Phase One Supplementary Environmental Statement and Additional Provision 2 (July 2015) Environmental Statement was published. The Woodland Trust has taken the opportunity of these events to update its list of ancient woods that it considers will be damaged by HS2 Phase 1.

In the light of all of this new information it seemed a good time for me to update my own analysis of the twenty-six Community Forum Area (CFA) reports, taking account of any revisions in the Supplementary Environmental Statement (SES). I have summarised the fruits of this labour in a table and there are a few matters arising that I want to mention.

There are four woods in the sixteen identified in the Commons written answer that are not identified in the original Environmental Statement (ES) or SES as losing woodland to HS2:

  • Park Wood Common Plantation (in CFA 6), referred to in the ES as Common Plantation and Park Wood, is mentioned in the ES but is not identified as a site directly affected by HS2 and is not in the Woodland Trust list at all. In view of this, I have not included this wood in my table.
  • Fox Covert Whitfield (in CFA 14) is mentioned in the ES where it is claimed that none of the wood will be lost to HS2. It is, however, listed by the Woodland Trust as a wood that will suffer direct loss. In view of this, I have included this wood in my table, but have shown the area lost as zero.
  • Lodge Spinney (in CFA 16) is a wood that, according to the SES, “will not be impacted by the original or SES scheme” and is not in the Woodland Trust list at all. In view of this, I have not included this wood in my table.
  • Big Poors Wood (in CFA 18) is mentioned in the ES but is not identified as a site directly affected by HS2. The Woodland Trust list this wood as suffering an indirect impact. In view of this, I have not included this wood in my table.

The Non-technical summary of the SES states, on page 63, that the total of ancient woods that would lose land to HS2 has increased to thirty-seven and this tallies with my list, if Fox Covert Whitfield is excluded. However we still don’t appear to agree on the total area lost, which the SES reckons is approximately 44.5 ha and I have totalled at 51 ha.

The same passage of the SES also admits the error in the original HS2 Ltd total of nineteen affected woods that I identified in part 1 and confirms that this total should have been twenty-two. In typical HS2 Ltd style, the SES, instead of admitting to a cock-up, attributes the miscalculation to counting woods “located in close proximity as a single ancient woodland area”. Just how lacking in credibility this contrivance is can be seen from a version of HS2 Ltd drawing CT-10-064 that I have annotated with red stars to highlight the location of the four woods in question. They are clearly four separate woods, with the only possible claim that they are in “close proximity” being valid in the case of the leftmost two, John’s Gorse and Hanchwood House Wood. However, counting these four as a single wood is totally inconsistent with the approach taken in the other reports in Volume 2 of the ES and can only reasonably be accounted for by a failing of top level management of the document.

At least this belated and grudging admission serves to demonstrate that the strident defence of the nineteen figure by Ben Ruse that I referred to in part 1 was totally misjudged. Honestly, it’s like dealing with a bunch of petulant infants!

The Woodland Trust list of woods that will suffer direct loss runs to thirty-five and exhibits the following discrepancies when compared to the listing derived from the HS2 Ltd evaluation:

  • Fox Covert Whitfield is included despite the view of HS2 Ltd that there will be no land lost to HS2 within the ancient woodland area.
  • The Trust is sticking to its view that Long Itchington Wood would be directly affected. There is some support for this view in that HS2 Ltd’s own drawings show a small incursion into the margin of this wood (see footnote).
  • The unnamed wood near Stoneleigh is not included in the Trust’s list.
  • The unnamed wood off Drayton Lane is not included in the Trust’s list.
  • Weeford Park is listed by the trust as suffering indirect impact, but the ES identifies 1.4 ha lost to HS2.
  • Little Lyntus is not included in the Trust’s list.
  • The Trust has treated the western part of Ravenshaw Wood as a separate wood, identified as Slaish, despite the woodland appearing contiguous on the map.
  • Hanchwood House Wood is not included in the Trust’s list.

So we do appear to be moving closer towards a consensus, but are not there yet. It should be child’s play to get agreement, but it is not, apparently.

What is obvious from the latest releases of information is that HS2 is by far and away the biggest threat to England’s ancient woodlands that is on the horizon. I regard it as a national scandal that the Government and Parliament are apparently unmoved by this impending disaster. It is true that the recent request by the HS2 Select Committee that the Chilterns bored tunnel be extended, and subsequent acceptance in principle by the Government, should reduce the number of woods at risk by three, but that still leaves thirty-four that would suffer direct damage if the current plans remain unchanged.

I find it so frustrating that the Select Committee appears to be totally unmoved by the plight of this irreplaceable national asset, and is all too obviously equally unprepared to do anything about it. That they have moved to save three ancient woods is, I believe, purely a serendipitous outcome of those woods being within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, rather than any burning desire on the part of the Committee to reduce the ancient woodland carnage.

Footnote: As can be seen from the extract from HS2 Ltd map CT-05-087 that I have reproduced below, the area of “land potentially required for construction”, indicated by pink shading, clearly encroaches over the boundary of the wood.

Long_Itchington_Wood_tunnel_portalAcknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd route design is overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.


It should be child’s play, part 1

When he appeared in front of the Phase 1 HS2 Select Committee in support of his petition, Alexander Rukin accused “the HS2 people” of being “really, really bad at maths” (see footnote 1). You might think that this was a bit cheeky for a nine-year old, and I’m pretty sure that his father, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin, put him up to it, but it does appear that Alexander had some justification for the claim on the basis of the costing figures that HS2 Ltd had apparently provided him with (see footnote 2).

I have to say that I have also had cause to doubt the numeracy skills of the HS2 people, or at least their ability to count, when it comes to identifying the total area of ancient woodland that will be lost to HS2 and the number of individual woods that will be affected.

I was first alerted that there was confusion surrounding the numbers by the submission that the Woodland Trust made to the public consultation on the Phase 1 Environmental Statement (ES) that was run at the end of 2013. In that submission (on pages 10 and 11) the Trust disputes the claim made in the ES (see footnote 3) that nineteen ancient woodlands will be directly affected by HS2, putting the figure at twenty-seven. This higher figure, according to the Trust, was obtained by reviewing each of the twenty-six Community Forum Area reports in Volume 2 of the ES. The Trust also cautions that the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) that HS2 Ltd has used to identify ancient woodlands is provisional (and, thus, probably incomplete), and that the Trust considers that a further twenty-two woodlands not on the AWI and, accordingly, not in the HS2 Ltd count either, also qualify as ancient woodland.

All this gave rise to a bit of a tiff. Lead Spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, Ben Ruse, was quoted in an article posted on the BBC News website, making statements firmly refuting the Woodland Trust’s observations. In a typical display of corporate arrogance, he reiterated HS2 Ltd’s belief that nineteen woods was the correct number and claimed that this figure had been “shared and previously agreed” with the Trust – a claim that the Trust denies. In a totally unnecessary slur on a respected organisation, he accused the Trust of including “misleading information” in its submission – whilst, in my experience, government departments frequently resort to using misleading information to defend policy, this is not a trait that I recognise as typical of the output of our environmental charities.

At about the same time that all this was going on, I was preparing an evidence paper for submission to the inquiry HS2 and the environment that was being undertaken by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. As part of the research for this paper I undertook my own trawl through the twenty-six Community Forum Area reports in the ES, and drew up my own list of ancient woods that are identified in the ES as being directly impacted by HS2. I summarised the results of this work in a table that I annexed to my evidence paper.

My conclusion is that the result of the contest between the Trust and HS2 Ltd was a score draw – at this stage anyway, as there is more to follow (as I will reveal in my next posting). HS2 Ltd do appear to have miscounted, in that the tally of nineteen regards four clearly separate woods in CFA 22 as just one woodland; if these are reckoned as four, rather than one, the total of ancient woodlands identified in the ES as directly affected by HS2 becomes twenty-two. The remaining difference of five between the totals calculated by the two organisations can largely be accounted for by ancient woods that the Woodland Trust claimed would be directly affected by HS2, but where these are not identified as such in the ES. In the latest list published by the Trust three of these woods are now shown as indirectly affected, and one is now not listed at all. The Trust appears to be standing its ground however regarding its claim that one wood not identified in the ES as suffering direct impact, Long Itchington Wood in CFA 16, will be directly affected.

Notwithstanding, the Trust has stuck to its guns that some further woods that HS2 will affect should be classified as ancient woodlands, but were not listed as such on the AWI when it was used by HS2 Ltd to inform the ES. The Trust has submitted evidence to Natural England for a total of twenty-three HS2-affected woodlands to be assessed for inclusion in the AWI, and this has resulted recently in fourteen of these woods, twelve of which would be directly affected by HS2, being accepted onto the Inventory (see footnote 4).

The Trust’s persistence, additional survey work undertaken by HS2 Ltd since the ES was published and the recent release of a Supplementary Environmental Statement have given HS2 Ltd an opportunity to correct the record on HS2 and ancient woodland. In part 2 I will examine whether this has enabled a consensus to be achieved.

(To be concluded …)


  1. Master Rukin’s petition was heard during the public session held by the HS2 Select Committee on the afternoon of Monday 12thJanuary 2015. It runs from paragraph 33 in the transcript, or may be viewed from 14:20 hrs in the video. The comment that I have quoted is recorded on paragraph 54 of the transcript.
  2. See paragraph 59 to paragraph 64 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thJanuary 2015.
  3. In paragraph 8.1.19 of Volume 3 of the London-West Midlands Environmental Statement (Route-wide effects).
  4. See the Woodland Trust blog 14 ancient woods finally recognised by HS2, 7thJuly 2015.


The quality of silk

Despite the evidence of well-nigh one hundred days of petition hearing sessions that it is a really uphill struggle to get the HS2 Select Committee to agree that changes to the Phase 1 hybrid Bill are necessary, petitioners naturally want to give it their best shot when they get their chance to appear in Committee Room 5. For individual petitioners who do not feel up to doing the job themselves, the practical alternative is to seek out a Roll B agent who is prepared to do it for them – preferably free of charge, or at low cost. One person who has been a stalwart servant of the public good in this respect is Stop HS2’s Joe Rukin, who has represented a number of petitioners in front of the Select Committee.

Local community organisations may find that they have the resources to appoint professional legal advisers, particularly if a number of them in the same locality come together to share costs. This is just what the three parish councils and two action groups in Community Forum Area (CFA) 17 did.

Our first step was to appoint a solicitor, and we opted for one of the firms that employ parliamentary agents. On their advice we also subsequently briefed a barrister to represent us on the day of our hearing. Looking back on the experience, although it was very helpful to have a professional keeping our evidence on track on the day, I think that where the assistance of solicitor and barrister was most helpful was in reviewing our early tries at preparing evidence and helping us improve our case.

As it turned out the Select Committee was mostly unresponsive to what we had to say so we would hardly have fared any worse had we saved our money and gone for the “do it yourself” approach. However, I do not regret using professional legal assistance, although, having now gone through the process and learnt the ropes, I would chose DIY should I be required to present another petition in future.

Notwithstanding, what barristers bring to the party is finely-honed skills in advocacy and the art of cross-examination, neither of which you are likely to possess yourself to any appreciable degree. So, if your budget does stretch sufficiently, you may find yourself discussing the appointment of a barrister with your solicitor, and having to make the choice of whether to splash out on a Queen’s Counsel (QC). Colloquially called “silks”, after the material from which their gowns are fashioned, these barristers are the senior members of their profession and command fees commensurate with their status. As with all things in life though, you don’t always get what you pay for, and my consortium of petitioners opted, on solicitor’s advice, for a more junior, but up and coming and highly regarded, younger member of the profession. I have to say that we were totally happy with our choice in all respects.

However, if you are contemplating splashing out on a QC, and are seeking reassurance that silk can be better than cotton, I recommend that you take a look at a couple of examples of QCs in action in front of the Select Committee.

For an example of top-notch advocacy I suggest the closing submission that Martin Kingston QC, a silk for more than twenty years, made to the Select Committee on behalf of his clients, the Chiltern Ridges HS2 Action Group and Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside (see footnote 1). Asked by the Chairman for “brief final remarks”, Mr Kingston launched into a full, and masterly, summary of his clients’ case and the Promoter’s response lasting the best part of twenty minutes. In asking the Committee to be “patient” with him, he explained that the reason that he felt obliged to do this was his clients’ “frustration” with the process that had just taken place. His chief complaint was that the promoter had not engaged adequately with his clients’ attempts to provide the Committee with a cost benefit analysis for their proposed tunnel alternative, primarily that the Promoter had offered no expert testimony, but he also delivered a pretty decent demolition of the whole case that had been argued by Tim Mould QC, Lead Counsel for the Promoter, on behalf of his client.

Unfortunately, excellence does not always reap its just rewards and, judging by the Committee’s recent statement on its “interim Chilterns tunnel decisions”, Mr Kingston’s pleadings for his clients’ preferred alternative of the “T3i” tunnel fell on deaf ears.

My second example demonstrates the skill of cross-examination. I feel that, in general, the Promoter’s expert witnesses have been given a fairly easy ride; petitioners taking on cross-examination of these witnesses themselves appear far too easily rebuffed, and I can only recall two or three occasions when any of the Promoter’s experts have been under pressure to any extent, and that has been down to the questioner being a barrister skilled in the art. My example, which is one of these occasions, is Peter Miller, Head of Environment and Planning for HS2 Ltd and a regular contributor to the Select Committee’s proceedings, questioned by Timothy Straker QC acting for the four statutory bodies responsible for the Chilterns AONB (see footnote 2).

Mr Miller had to endure over an hour of dogged and determined questioning from Mr Straker. Whilst the latter did not deliver any knockout blows, he did make life uncomfortable for the HS2 Ltd man, who appeared evasive and very wary throughout. The silk also forced Mr Miller into some corners where he found it necessary to sacrifice some credibility in order to squirm out; for example, he found himself offering the restoration of footpaths severed by HS2 as an example of the project providing a social benefit, so asking the Committee to regard returning the status quo as delivering benefit (see footnote 3).

I really would like to see more of this sort of thing, and fear that we can only look forward to really effective cross-examination when it is entrusted to the professionals.


  1. Mr Kingston’s submission was made during the public session held by the HS2 Select Committee on the evening of Monday 20thJuly 2015. I recommend that, in order best to judge its impact, you view the video; the closing submission begins at 20:07 hrs. If you want to see a print version, it runs from paragraph 337 in the transcript.
  2. Mr Straker’s cross-examination of Mr Miller took place during the public session held by the HS2 Select Committee on the afternoon of Wednesday 15thJuly 2015. It runs from paragraph 1 in the transcript, or may be viewed from 13:59 hrs in the video.
  3. See paragraphs 68 to 71 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 15thJuly 2015.

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