Down in the valley, part 1

I remember one fresh January morning in 2011 standing under Cubbington’s wild pear tree with another member of my action group and a reporter from the local BBC radio station. We were waiting to broadcast a live interview for the “breakfast” slot on the impacts that HS2 would have on the countryside surrounding us. I had suggested to the lady from the BBC that we could save a walk and do the interview from outside the village pub, pretending that we were at the tree, but apparently that was against BBC ethics; so it was that we were standing on the hill above the Leam valley, watching the sun come up.

It was obvious from the early morning signs that it was going to be a brilliant sunny winter’s day, and as we waited for the call from the studio we were treated to a superb sight as the gentle morning light bathed the valley and a thin mist dispersed. Even the lady from Auntie was impressed; she commented on “a stunning sunrise” in her introduction to the interview, and said the valley looked “just beautiful this morning”.

The Leam valley from near the pear tree (Frances Wilmot)

The Leam valley from near the pear tree (Frances Wilmot)

The whole purpose of the interview was that the plans for HS2 mean that, as I explained in my blog Moving the earth (posted 31 Jan 2014), the railway would cross the valley on two embankments with a viaduct in between. Where we were standing would be a cutting, meaning that the vintage tree we were under would meet an untimely end. The BBC thought, not unreasonably, that its listeners might be concerned about this proposed rape of the lovely Warwickshire countryside.

As we stood at our vantage point, it was hard to envisage what the view might look like some time in the 2020s. I have to say that, three years later, I’m still not sure just how much impact HS2, and its associated earthworks, would have. Map Book CFA 17 contains six – yes only six – “verifiable photomontages” claiming to illustrate the visual impacts of the railway, three of which are from the same viewpoint, and none of them depict what would be seen from where we were standing. In fact, none of them show very much whatsoever, and it can be very hard to see the railway at all on some of them; perhaps HS2 Ltd doesn’t want to scare us – how considerate. Also, as I said in Moving the earth, the Environmental Statement (ES) contains no details of the profile information for any of the earthworks proposed for HS2 Phase 1; all we have been presented with are the footprints, so we don’t have very much to go on.

View of Leam valley from near Offchurch village hall (Frances Wilmot)

View of Leam valley from near Offchurch village hall (Frances Wilmot)

The nature of a valley with ridges running along its sides is that there are many places which offer vistas across the valley, and accordingly, unfortunately, views down onto the proposed route of HS2. Not the least of these is the village of Offchurch, which will have a grandstand view as the photograph above testifies. This depicts the view over the valley from the churchyard of St Gregory’s church in Offchurch; the trees on the horizon in the centre are those of South Cubbington Wood.

These elevated views of HS2 will surely make reducing its visual impact problematic. There are also considerations of noise pollution to take into account. The proposed path of HS2 through the valley crosses mainly farmland, with only some isolated dwellings to bear the brunt of the noise. However, the main village of Offchurch is not that far away and, as I have said, is elevated, so noise mitigation should be a consideration. Further, we are told in the ES that the tranquillity of the valley “is medium”; I take this to be understatement that is typical of the ES. Since there are no major roads in the area, or dare one say it railways, and the only source of mechanical noise is farm machinery, one of the great pleasures of walking in this area is the sense of getting away from it all. This tranquillity, and the well-being and amenity that can be derived from it, would be totally shattered if trains are blasting through the valley at up to 225mph.

Some form of mitigation against the visual brutality of a trackbed and overhead power supply system and the noise of the passing trains would appear to be needed desperately. In the second part of this blog I will examine HS2 Ltd’s proposals in this respect.

(To be continued …)

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 12, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    In one tranquil village the consultant placed the noise measurement sensor under the leaves on a tree to lift the back ground noise. The noise measurements are from HS2’s purposes. Would not classify the noise measurements as objective ndependent repeatable tests. The nations austerity condition is persisent and the need for repair and refurbishment and much maintenance is now established. Perhaps a local balance sheet of more pressing needs could be put to the Environmental Audit Select Committee for the locality.

    Reply

    • I have heard similar stories Chris about the background noise measurement activities. If they are true, then it is totally deplorable. I must admit that I was very surprised when I saw the estimated background noise level for my street in the ES, since I thought that I live in a reasonably quiet location. I will be saying more about this in a blog later this month.

      Reply

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