Gladiatorial games, part 2

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 1, posted on 22 Nov 2015).

The remit given to Chiltern District Council (CDC) by the Local Authority Noise Consortium (LANC) is to take the lead on matters associated with routewide operational sound, noise and vibration. The HS2 Select Committee were told that the Camden London Borough Council would be giving evidence on construction noise at a later session (see footnote 1) – CDC’s expert witness, Rick Methold, explained to the Committee that “obviously a lot of people are affected in terms of construction noise [in Camden]”.

As it turned out, the evidence presented to the HS2 Select Committee by CDC on the morning of Wednesday 4th November 2015 (see footnote 2) related wholly to airborne operational sound/noise; the reason why no matters pertaining to groundborne noise and vibration were brought to the Committee’s attention may be gleaned from section 3.2 of a “written position statement” that had been prepared by the LANC and included in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Committee by CDC (see footnote 3). This states:

“LANC is satisfied that, subject to the Promoter making the provisions sought on other matters … there will be sufficient protection for stakeholders in relation to groundborne noise and vibration from the operation of the railway. Under such circumstances LANC does not consider it necessary to challenge the designation of LOAELs and SOAELs set-out in IP E21.”

Some positive news was imparted fairly early on in the morning session, resulting from what CDC’s counsel, Gwion Lewis, described as the “in the main … helpful [petition management] meetings” that the LANC has taken part in with HS2 Ltd over the past eleven months. Two items were identified where assurances have been offered by the Promoter that the LANC finds acceptable.

The first of these was identified on CDC’s exhibit Summary of Assurances Sought (see footnote 4) as:

“HS2 must account for any new High Speed railway noise research during detailed design.”

At the request of Sir Peter Bottomley, Mr Lewis explained that “account” in this context meant “take into consideration” (see footnote 5). The agreed assurance wording was presented to the Committee on a Promoter’s exhibit that was apparently a last-minute addition to the bundle assembled for the hearing (see footnote 6). Since the assurance wording was not read into the transcript, I have reproduced it below:

“The Secretary of State will require the nominated undertaker to monitor peer-reviewed research by independent sources into annoyance and health effects specific to high speed railway noise and vibration and notify all Local Authority Environmental Health Departments on the HS2 Phase One route if a numerical correction to noise and vibration levels from the scheme is applied, to account for the research findings.”

At a later stage in his presentation of evidence, Mr Methold explained that the purpose of the assurance was “essentially committing [the nominated undertaker] to look at any new evidence that comes along that would suggest that their position is questionable and what it actually says in the terms of it is if there is this so-called difference, or penalty correction that they need to add to their noise then they will do that” (see footnote 7).

Notwithstanding considerations of what force the words agreed might have, I would welcome an assurance that is along the lines that Mr Methold outlined to the Committee. However, the worth of any assurance lies in the wording and I can’t see in the agreed text that the nominated undertaker is under any compulsion to “take into consideration” any new research to the extent that it would require him to make a penalty correction should the circumstances demand it; he is only required to inform the local authorities should he decide to make any such correction. Neither is the nominated undertaker required to add to the extent of knowledge of the “annoyance and health effects specific to high speed railway noise and vibration” by commissioning independent research in order to plug any gaps that are identified.

I’m afraid that the assurance relies too much on the goodwill and diligence of HS2 Ltd and any nominated successors, and the stock of these commodities has been proved to be very low in dealings with the Promoter so far.

The second matter where agreement was indicated on the Summary of Assurances Sought exhibit is:

“Provide for ‘all reasonably foreseeable circumstances’.”

The wording of the assurance was not revealed, but it is indicated in the “written position statement”, in section 4.2, that this requirement will be covered by an amendment to Information Paper E20. Fortunately, Mr Methold provided the Committee with some clarification of what had been agreed (see footnote 7):

“They have agreed to make sure that they’re taking into account reasonably foreseeable assumptions, so that would include track degradation, it would include the possibility of running trains faster, it would include new evidence that high speed trains do have a slightly different characteristic which people might respond to differently than conventional trains. So that is actually quite a powerful commitment they have given to us …”

Since I have expressed reservations in the past about whether HS2 Ltd has made proper provision for “known unknowns” within the input assumptions – in, for example, my blog Not a precise science, part 4 (posted 17 Oct 2015) – I am pleased to note that this area of risk appears to have been covered, if it can be made to stick.

There remain, however, some matters where arriving at a form of words that both parties are happy with has, so far, eluded their negotiators and I will move on to consider these in the next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 267 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The Committee were told that Camden’s hearing was scheduled for Monday 7th December 2015. Mr Methold’s comment is in paragraph 77 of the transcript for the morning session.
  2. The evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session (video) and the Promoter’s response was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video).
  3. This statement forms exhibits A1572(1) to A1572(10) in the bundle of exhibits e-published on the Select Committee’s website.
  4. Exhibit A1571(6) in the bundle of exhibits e-published on the Select Committee’s website, as footnote 3.
  5. See paragraphs 12 to 16 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  6. Exhibit P10138(12) in the bundle of exhibits e-published on the Select Committee’s website, as footnote 3
  7. See paragraph 322 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015
  8. See paragraph 66 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.

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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