Encountering some pitfalls on the way

I like statistics, and I will be giving you a selection of numbers that illustrate how well the HS2 Select Committee is doing in its herculean task in my last blog posting of 2014. However, even I haven’t totalled up the number of hours that the Committee has spent to date listening to petitioners pleading their case. It must be a good many more than a few, and it is inevitable in all those hours of presenting evidence that some petitioners have encountered a little difficulty with process, and have uncovered some pitfalls that should be a lesson to all who aspire to take our turn in front of the Committee. In this posting I report on three examples of this; it’s up to you whether you use the experience of others to your own advantage.

The first of my examples arises from the desire to present the Committee with an illustration of the visual impact that HS2 will have on your locality. This is certainly something that I wish to do, but, as I explained in my blog Down in the valley, part 1 (posted 12 Feb 2014), the HS2-provided photomontages for my area are so poor – some of the more uncharitable amongst us might even say “misleading” – that I have nothing readily available to use. I suspect that others are in a similar position.

Faced with this dearth of suitable material, and the power of image editors such as Adobe Photoshop®, it is very tempting to take the DIY approach. This is precisely the solution that was adopted by the two ladies from Berkswell that I featured in my blog Heroes – just for one day (posted 17 Dec 2014). The visual evidence presented by these petitioners included the following two slides depicting how HS2 will look as it thunders through Berkswell.

Select Committee exhibit A406(6) (Source: C O'Sullivan & C Philp)

Select Committee exhibit A406(6) (Source: C O’Sullivan & C Philp)

Select Committee exhibit A406(8) (Source: C O'Sullivan & C Philp)

Select Committee exhibit A406(8) (Source: C O’Sullivan & C Philp)

These images give a stark picture of the visual impact that HS2 would have. The problem is, as Tim Mould QC was only too ready to point out with the support of his expert witness on engineering matters, Tim Smart, that the images exaggerate the closeness and height of the HS2 track (see footnote 1). So, for example, with regard to the first image, Mr Smart was able to claim that HS2 would be “about the half the height shown and be down the other side of those trees”.

Now, judging by the comments made by Members present, the Committee did not regard this as a deliberate attempt to mislead, and so I think that the ladies go away with it, but attendees at future hearings may be best advised either to avoid preparing their own photomontages or, if they do, make sure that they are not obvious exaggerations.

One subject that has never been far from the lips of petitioners appearing before the committee, particularly those representing community organisations, is the inadequacy of the consultation process prior to the involvement of the Select Committee. In my blogs So it’s not just me then, part 1 (posted 2 Oct 2014) and So it’s not just me then, part 2 (posted 6 Oct 2014) I reported on some of the bitches about this by petitioners appearing in the early stages of the Committee’s session programme. Since then similar gripes have cropped up regularly in hearings. Well, judging by an exchange that took place when Malcolm Hickin was doing his stuff in front of the Committee as agent for the Berkswell Society, this topic is getting tiresome for at least some of its Members (see footnote 2):

  1. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: We have the opportunity to listen to you. We really ought to jump to slide 11 and get on to the issues. The history and the past doesn’t actually affect the issues. What comes from 11 onwards, I think, does affect the issues.
  2. MR HICKIN: Well, I think the slides that go from, effectively, slide 5 are details of the public consultation, or lack of public consultation.
  3. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Indeed. We’re not here to take a view on that. We are here to take a view on the issues you’re going to raise with us, and I do ask you to come to slide 11 first, please.
  4. MR HICKIN: Okay, if that be the wish of the Committee. So slide 11.
  5. CHAIR: It’s just that we understand that there are different views and different parties, and we’ve had this time and time again. People are arguing the toss about who said what at what meeting five years ago or three years ago, and, although I know people sometimes want to let off steam about the fact that they haven’t been listened to, and I understand that –
  6. MR HICKIN: I’m not here to vent my spleen, just to provide information.
  7. CHAIR: We’re here to make decisions and consider issues, rather than who said what when.

So the message is that, even if the Members were to be sympathetic to your complaints about your views being ignored by HS2 Ltd, they do not consider it within their brief to adjudicate on any such complaints. So you are wasting your breath, and also risk alienating the Committee, if you add your voice to the general clamour.

My final pitfall example should serve as a warning to those of us who have done our homework on a particular technical subject and want to take on HS2 Ltd, and applies particularly to the engineers and scientists amongst us who think that our expertise in our own particular field equips us to pontificate on another. The unfortunate engineer who fell foul of one Member of the Select Committee was Balsall Parish Councillor Richard Lloyd.

It was fast approaching 9pm on Monday 1st December when Cllr Lloyd announced his intention to raise the issue of electromagnetic interference, or, as it turned out, more specifically the dangers that other signals in the UHF band would be blocked by HS2 structures. Sir Peter Bottomley appeared to losing patience with the petitioner and asked him if he was a student of Clerk Maxwell. The following short interchange ensued (see footnote 3):

  1. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: No, I don’t think we want you as a secondary researcher. If you have primary knowledge, do; if you don’t, don’t, please.
  2. MR LLOYD: Well, I do, in that sense that I’m familiar with radio transmissions and the issue – if we go to slide 36, please, I accept fully that HS2 Ltd are going to approve their equipment for operating in the environment and not –
  3. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Sorry, forgive me. Just remind me of your qualifications in this field.
  4. MR LLOYD: I have a degree in engineering, sir.
  5. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: What kind of engineering?
  6. MR LLOYD: Mechanical engineering.
  7. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Mr Lloyd, this is not your primary field. This is second hand.
  8. MR LLOYD: Well, working in the defence industry, I’ve certainly had electromagnetic compatibility as one –
  9. SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: This is second hand, Mr Lloyd. I wouldn’t pursue it.

At this point the Chairman stepped in as peacemaker:

  1. CHAIR: Do you want to make a very brief point, and then we’ll move on?

Cllr Lloyd did try to make some brief points, but a retreat would probably have been more sensible than trying to soldier on – the battle had clearly been lost, and I don’t think that the Committee was very open to his suggestions.

There would appear to be two possible courses that minimise the chances of being pinned in a corner on a technical issue as Cllr Lloyd was. The first is to appoint a suitably-qualified, experienced and acknowledged technical expert in the subject to give evidence on your behalf; clearly this is beyond the means of most of us. The second is to stick to the issues that can be shown to directly affect you and/or your community, and hope to get away with challenging the HS2 Ltd position. The Committee is liable to be far more tolerant to your amateur theories in these circumstances, than if you obviously set out to tilt at windmills. However, I fear that, in any case, the Members of the Committee, not being experts themselves, will incline towards the view of the world painted by the expert witness appearing for HS2 Ltd, who, unlike you, can afford the best.


  1. The debate about the accuracy of these images occupies paragraphs 214 to 252 of the transcript for the evening of Monday 1st December 2014 and starts at 17.20 in the corresponding video.
  2. The exchange is recorded in the transcript for the Select Committee session on the morning of Wednesday 10th December 2014 and starts at 9:34 in the corresponding video.
  3. The exchange is recorded in the transcript for the Select Committee session on the evening of Monday 1st December 2014 and starts at 20:53 in the corresponding video.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on December 24, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Rushing to conclusions and sometimes the wrong ones is a Hallmark of HS2 and perhaps the Select Committee members. Science has moved on from Clerk Maxwell and some people have more knowledge of the impacts of electromagnetic interference and of the area of railways and radio. This area has pseuo experts in the EMC and EMI areas who do not understand the complexities of these matters as they claim. I only know of one person who can model such matters but the laws of physics may enable people to measure but not know of a solution. What is primary knowledge and secondary researchers. These are not the criteria for knowing your dairy calf feeder tags will not work near HS2 neutral sections or your radio transmitter may jam the ERTMs signals to and from the train/trains. There is no font of knowledge in these areas and HS2 does not have sole juristriction of the specialists and expertese. Some people have investigated these matters and would not claim to be able to predict outcomes. Television signal reception dips when planes approach airports and are a nuisance which need additional antenna amplifiers and filters. Patronising people on their attempts to raise matters by bluff is not the way for Members of the Select Committee and to listen to QCs and others pontificate is not either. HS2 undertook too little prior work on the route and people should not be dissuaded by such impatiences.


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