Gladiatorial games, part 1

The long-awaited – at least by me – hearing of Chiltern District Council (CDC) on noise issues took place in front of the HS2 Select Committee on Wednesday 4th November 2015 (see footnote 1). This was the big contest, with, in the red corner, CDC, and its acoustics expert Rick Methold of Southdowns Environmental Consultants, representing the fifteen local authorities from along the route of HS2 Phase 1 that have formed the Local Authorities’ Noise Consortium (LANC) and, in the blue corner, HS2 Ltd and expert noise witness Rupert Thornely-Taylor (see footnote 2).

This was certainly a prize fight that went the distance – the presentation of the petitioner’s case took three hours fifteen minutes and the hearing lasted nearly five and a half hours in total. I doubt that the average HS2-affected resident would have found the stamina to watch the thing, and many people, I know, find the detail of such debates hard to follow. One person who certainly appeared to find it all a strain was Chairman of the Select Committee, Robert Syms MP, who at the start of the afternoon session greeted the request from the counsels representing both parties to read a letter into the record with (see footnote 3):

“We’d be delighted to have you read something into the record. It could be the highlight of the day.”

But it would be unfortunate if potential HS2 noise-affected residents exclude themselves from understanding the significance of the matters that were debated, because, as CDC’s counsel, Gwion Lewis, told the Committee the evidence that was to be presented by CDC (see footnote 4):

“… relates to the interests of a very large number of residents and the legitimate concerns they have, we say, about the impact of this project in terms of noise and vibration on their quality of life.”

He added:

“It is important to stress at the outset that many individual petitioners have chosen not to trouble the committee with their own concerns about noise and vibration, or have been persuaded not to do so because we’ve taken on the lead responsibility on this issue, our objective being to seek to obtain an acceptable outcome for those residents in noise and vibration terms.”

So the LANC is acting in your name and my name – not that they have asked me what I think on the subject!

Being something of a noise geek I paid great attention to what transpired that Wednesday, and I must say that I didn’t share Mr Syms’ downbeat evaluation of the entertainment value. Also, unlike him I suspect, I think that I actually understood the points made by both sides and their significance. So I have a missionary zeal to go forth and spread the news, and that is just what I propose to do over the next few postings – so if you really don’t want to know, then look away now. However, those of you that would like to make the effort to get on top of what the LANC is trying to get done on noise in your name should watch this space for the next few regular postings; I promise that I will do my best to make some sense of it for you.

One thing that we learnt very early on in that Wednesday’s proceedings is that the LANC has been in negotiations with HS2 Ltd – in what Mr Lewis termed “petition management meetings” – for some eleven months, and that these have been “in the main … helpful meetings” (see footnote 4). This was a bit of a surprise to me because, as someone who reads more than most people of the reports, papers and articles about HS2 that get into the public domain, I don’t recall coming across any references to these negotiations this past year before them being mentioned at the Select Committee (see footnote 5). I thought it best to check out, with the help of my colleague Mr Google, whether I had just missed all of the updates that the LANC must surely have issued to keep all of those residents whose interests it was representing fully informed. There wasn’t much to be found; the main item was a report issued in April 2015 intended to update parish councils in Buckinghamshire on the progress of negotiations, and other than that all that my search turned up was a general report of December 2014 from Staffordshire County Council where the intention to join the LANC is advised. If that is indeed all that has been put in the public domain, then I think that the members of the LANC, particularly those responsible for areas outside of Buckinghamshire, are failing to keep their council tax payers adequately informed.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The hearing was the only business of the morning (video, transcript) and afternoon (video, transcript) sessions combined.
  2. Although it was stated in evidence that there are fifteen members of LANC, only fourteen are listed on the petitioner’s exhibit A1571(9). These fourteen are Aylesbury Vale District Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Camden Borough Council, Cherwell District Council, Chiltern District Council, Hillingdon Borough Council, Lichfield District Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, South Bucks District Council, South Northamptonshire Council, Staffordshire County Council, Three Rivers District Council and Warwickshire County Council.
  3. See paragraph 3 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  4. See paragraph 3 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  5. It is reported elsewhere that these meetings have been held “at intervals of approximately two weeks”.

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Michael Woodhouse for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable in preparing this series of blogs.

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

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