Keeping us in the dark

In paragraphs 6.3.48 to 6.3.50 on page 128 of its report High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future Consultation Summary Report (here) Dialogue by Design presents its analysis of what respondents to the public consultation on HS2 said about noise pollution.

We are told that a “total of 2,945 respondents are generally concerned about the noise a high speed line will generate”. Also 3,046 respondents “express the opinion that either the noise assessment is inadequate, or more information about it needs to be provided”. More specifically, 514 respondents “mention concerns about vibration in particular” and 333 respondents comment upon the sound simulation at the roadshows, “often expressing doubt as to whether it provides a realistic indication of the actual operational noise”.

I must say that I share these doubts. After spending many hours on the research that has been necessary to inform the blogs that I have written on HS2 noise, I still have to answer when asked how bad it will be, “I’m sorry, I just don’t know”. The only thing that I can say, with my hand on my heart, is that I believe that HS2 Ltd is seeking to underestimate the impacts of HS2 noise and overstate the benefits of the proposed mitigation measures.

So does HS2 Ltd have anything new to say to those of us who are worried about noise in Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability (here)? There is a section on Appraisal of airborne noise (section 7.2 on pages 26 to 28), but this says very little that we have not heard before from HS2 Ltd, and I don’t think that this will do anything to reassure the doubters. There is an acknowledgement, in paragraph 7.2.1, that:

“Noise attracted a significant number of comments in response to the consultation, in particular the predicted noise levels and the prediction methods.”

There is even an assurance, in paragraph 7.2.2, that HS2 Ltd knows that it has a PR problem in this area:

“We are aware of the concern communities that are alongside the proposed route for HS2 have regarding noise.”

So why on earth isn’t HS2 Ltd doing anything to allay those concerns? Why has HS2 Ltd avoided meaningful technical discussions on noise with action group representatives? Why has the information provided on noise impacts on properties been limited to fuzzy maps, calculated using an inappropriate noise model, with fairly meaningless dots on them, rather than proper noise contour maps (refer to Pass me the map, posted 30 Jun 2011)? Why does the grey dot on HS2 Ltd maps cover a range of impacts from slight to very severe (refer to That’s a bit of an understatement, posted 5 Nov 2011)? Why were the noise simulation demonstration booths at the roadshows treated with such scepticism (refer to Have you heard?, posted 12 Jul 2011)?

HS2 Ltd addresses the missing noise contour maps in paragraph 7.2.8 on pages 27 and 28 of Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability, thus:

“… given the strategic nature of this stage of route design it was not considered appropriate to publish noise contour maps due to the risk of misleading the public on noise levels at specific properties, given that we have not performed detailed baseline noise surveys to verify our predictions of the existing background noise environment.”

In other words, they haven’t really got a clue about what the noise levels will be at any one particular property, which means that the counts of properties affected that were given in the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) are probably totally meaningless.

Paragraph 7.2.8 continues:

“If proposals for the route are taken forward, the EIA would undertake more detailed and localised assessment of noise and this could allow for the production of detailed noise analysis and detailed recommendations for future noise mitigation.”

I would jolly well hope that the EIA process will include a proper and detailed prediction of noise impacts at all points along the route, but am worried that “could allow for the production” implies that there is some doubt about this. It would surely be a scandal if HS2 Ltd found itself unable to provide this information to affected householders.

It is good that HS2 Ltd acknowledges that communities are concerned about noise, but it is also time that HS2 Ltd recognised that action groups have more than concerns; they have precise technical questions (here) that HS2 Ltd has, largely, failed to address. We have been promised, on more than one occasion, that HS2 Ltd will organise a technical seminar specifically to address our questions on noise and it is high time that this took place.

There will be more on noise topics raised by the consultation in my next blog.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Dr Chris Eaglen on April 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    There are likely to be many more people impacted by dust and particulate residues in the long construction periods. Atmospheric Impact assessments were not part of the AOS and are being overlooked when they impact many more people in the early years.


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