A sound idea

In paragraph 7.2.2 on page 26 of its document Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability HS2 Ltd confirms that it is “aware of the concern communities that are alongside the proposed route for HS2 have regarding noise”. This being the case, it seems to have signally failed to address these concerns.

It is true that noise has been discussed at technical seminars organised by HS2 Ltd, but these have been aimed at a general audience and have not provided the opportunity to review the topic in detail. In the response to a Freedom of Information request HS2 Ltd advised that it is “currently considering a further seminar to assist people’s understanding”, that this would be “a more technical discussion” and that we will be “informed of possible dates for such a seminar”. Eighteen months later, we are still waiting for news of this seminar.

In September 2012, attendees at community forums were treated to the presentation An introduction to HS2 Ltd’s approach to managing noise. This was billed as “non technical” and a number of local representatives that I have talked to found it condescending rather than helpful. I certainly felt that it failed to address any of the issues with noise that I have raised in my blogs. My attempts to question the presenter at the end of the PowerPoint show failed miserably to achieve any of the answers that I was seeking.

You would think that, as HS2 Ltd’s chosen means of communicating with local communities, the community forums would give HS2 Ltd the opportunity to set up some sort of mechanism that would enable interested local community representatives to engage at a meaningful technical level on noise. This is surely an obligation of the United Nations Aarhus Convention, which requires engagement on environmental issues with those affected, and noise is surely an environmental issue.

Now HS2 Ltd and its advisers on noise appear to think that this subject is too complicated for amateurs to understand and should be left to the professionals. Whilst this may be true of the majority of local representatives at community forum meetings, there are a number of members of the affected communities who have made the effort to educate themselves about the issues involved. I venture to claim that these individuals have reached the standard where, at the very least, they are able to appreciate the arguments and be capable of entering into discussions with HS2 Ltd on behalf of their communities. Some of these individuals may, like me, already represent local organisations on community forums, but these will be spread around the forums and not all forums will have such a member. Also not all of the individuals with a good understanding of the noise issues will be community forum members.

I do however accept that the detailed discussions on noise that I am seeking would not be appropriate business for normal meetings of the community forums. However, it is very apparent that there is an urgent need for a mechanism to be established that will allow a meaningful and detailed dialogue on noise issues to take place with representatives of local communities and that the community forums are the obvious, indeed only available, starting point for devising a suitable mechanism.

In view of all of this, in May this year I made a proposal to HS2 Ltd, via my local community forum, that a specialist group should be set up across all of the community forums to discuss noise issues and report back its findings to the community forums, so that they will be able to confront local issues on noise nuisance in an informed way.

In order to give this proposal some initial momentum, I spent a great deal of time preparing a submission, setting out all of the HS2 noise issues that I was aware of at the time.

The outcome of my initiative is two action points on the log of the Offchurch and Cubbington Community Forum. One of these is:

“HS2 Ltd to review Cubbington Action Group document on assessing noise impacts.”

The HS2 Ltd response provided for the September 2012 community forum meeting is:

“The recently consulted on EIA Scope and Methodology Report (SMR) is an important, but technical, part of the EIA process and HS2 Ltd is committed to ensuring that its approaches meet the appropriate and necessary requirements for a comprehensive EIA. The scope and methodology will continue to be refined where HS2 Ltd discovers or receives new evidence.

“In light of that we will review the submission from Cubbington Action Group to determine whether it presents new evidence that could affect the scope or methods proposed for the EIA. In the meantime forum members may wish to present their paper to the local Environmental Health Practitioner representative at the local authority for their consideration and who may wish to take up the views contained therein formally with HS2 Ltd.”

So it took HS2 Ltd four months to decide that they will, at some stage, review my document to see if it contains any “new evidence”. I assume from this that evidence that has been presented to HS2 Ltd before, but which has been ignored, will probably not be viewed as new evidence. I have little faith that the promised HS2 Ltd review of my document will result in any substantive changes to the approach being taken on noise.

The second recorded action point is:

“HS2 Ltd to consider setting up a specialist route wide group to discuss noise.”

The HS2 Ltd response is:

“HS2 Ltd is setting up a Planning Forum Sub Group for topic based discussions (eg acoustics). The aim is for community forum members to receive and discuss information either at the Community Forums or via separate representation to their Planning and Environment Officers who would participate in the Planning Forum Sub Group. HS2 Ltd has considered the request for a route wide specialist group to discuss noise and in which interested community forum members could participate, and have not agreed to set such a group up over and above the existing arrangements.”

So, effectively, interested local community members will either have to try and get time for detailed noise discussions at the community forum or to try and find an obliging environmental health officer at the district council who will accept a briefing and raise issues in the planning forum acoustics sub group. I intend to try and do both.

My first attempt at discussing noise at my community forums was my questioning after the presentation An introduction to HS2 Ltd’s approach to managing noise. I had lots of questions, but we didn’t get past the first on my list as the Chairman intervened due to time constraints. I did get the concession of being able to submit my questions in writing to HS2 Ltd, which I have done.

I also asked for, and was granted, the right of reply by giving my own presentation on noise at the next meeting of the Offchurch and Cubbington Community Forum (27th November). I have made the offer to repeat this presentation to any interested groups.

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