Gladiatorial games, part 5

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 4, posted on 4 Dec 2015).

In part 4 I explained how, for the purposes of the tables in Appendix 5 of the Environmental Statement (ES), the noise due to HS2 predicted at a given location has both to exceed the LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) threshold and give rise to an increase in the ambient noise level of at least 3dB(A) in order for it to be considered as having an adverse effect. There is, in practice, a further test that is applied, and this is the purpose of the extreme right-hand column that can be seen in the extract from these tables that Rick Methold, expert witness on acoustics for Chiltern District Council (CDC), presented to the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1) as his exhibit A1571(25). This column is labelled “significant effect” and for the effect of noise on one of the receptor locations to be considered “significant” the HS2 contribution must be either above the SOAEL (significant observed adverse effect level) threshold, or must be between the LOAEL and SOAEL thresholds and be the cause of at least a 3dB(A) increase in the ambient noise environment at that location. When either of these conditions is satisfied it is the first step to the location being indicated by a pink background colour in the column.

However, it is just a first step; to gain the accolade of a pink background colour the effect must be deemed not just to be “significant” but to be “significant on a community basis”. Some guidance relating to this determination is provided in the ES (see footnote 2), where the process is described as “evidence based”, but it appears to be a largely subjective appraisal. The ES cites two examples of the circumstances of groups of dwellings that could qualify them as “significant on a community basis” (see footnote 3):

  • A large number of dwellings subject to minor adverse effect due to noise change in a quiet existing environment that are grouped closely together forming a residential community area.
  • A small number of dwellings subject to major adverse effect due to noise change in an existing environment that is currently either quiet or moderately noisy that are grouped closely together forming residential (sic) community area.

It would appear from these examples that isolated dwellings are required to suffer a greater effect from HS2 noise to qualify as “significant on a community basis” than more closely grouped buildings.

In his evidence, Mr Methold referred to Defra’s document Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE). He claimed that the NPSE “applies to individual receptors” whereas, as I have outlined above, “the way that HS2 has identified its significant effects at the moment is looking at community groupings of adverse impacts” (see footnote 4). He contrasted this with the Crossrail project where he noted that significant impacts were associated with single dwellings. He said that it was really important that “the committee understand the difference” between HS2 and Crossrail in this respect, as “the words that are currently in the environmental minimum requirements [designed to ensure that predicted adverse effects identified in the Environmental Statement are not worsened when the railway is operational] are based almost identically on those that were applied for the Crossrail scheme”. He cautioned that the regime had provided “very clear and strict controls for Crossrail, but it has unacceptable flexibility for High Speed 2” (see footnote 5). His concern appeared to be that appreciable changes could occur at individual properties, including new properties being added to a cluster, without registering a change in the significance of the cluster overall – he cited an example taken from the ES with he estimated “around 100 [individual] significant impacts”, although he admitted that he hadn’t counted them (see footnote 6).

Mr Methold also commented upon the concentration in the ES upon significant effects, which he acknowledged is consistent with the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011, in that these regulations only require the ES to identify “likely significant effects” and to “describe the measures envisaged in order to avoid, reduce and, if possible, remedy significant effects”. However, he also pointed out that national policy, as set out in the NPSE, “requires mitigation and minimisation of non-significant adverse effects” and that, accordingly, there were “some points of tension automatically [between the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and] the national policy” (see footnote 7).

I feel that, in the interests of fairness, I should try and represent the Promoter’s response to Mr Methold’s concerns about the way that HS2 noise effects, and the proposed mitigation of them, have been treated in the ES. The problem that this task gives me is the difficulty of interpreting what the Promoter’s expert witness, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, had to say when his time came (see footnote 8). I don’t think that he was as helpful to the Committee as he could have been, particularly under cross-examination, and consequently anybody like me who was listening intently to what he had to say may have wished for better clarity. In an attempt to describe his demeanour, I offer the following adjectives: evasive, defensive, intransigent, uncooperative, guarded, and truculent. I leave it to you to view his performance to judge whether any, or all, of these descriptors are justified.

Notwithstanding this difficulty, I think that Mr Thornely-Taylor’s position is that he agrees with the point that the ES is “designed to comply with environmental assessment requirements”, but contests that “the copious tables in volume 5 [of the ES] provide all the information needed [for compliance with the NPSE]”.

What I think can be fairly concluded is that, despite some persistent questioning from CDC’s counsel Gwion Lewis (see footnote 9), Mr Thornely-Taylor failed to give a satisfactory response to the question of where the ES demonstrates compliance with the requirement of the second aim of the NPSE that “all reasonable steps should be taken to mitigate and minimise adverse effects on health and quality of life” in the case where “the impact lies somewhere between LOAEL and SOAEL”.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015 (video).
  2. See paragraphs 1.5.31 to 1.5.34 in Annex A to ES Volume 5 Appendix SV-001-000.
  3. See paragraph 1.5.32 in Annex A to ES Volume 5 Appendix SV-001-000.
  4. Mr Methold’s words that I have quoted are recorded in paragraph 90 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. I have been unable to find any explicit statement in the NPSE that supports Mr Methold’s claim, but in that same paragraph 90 of the transcript he is recorded as asserting that it “is a point that has been clarified and agreed by HS2 during (LANC’s] meetings [with HS2 Ltd]”.
  5. All of the quotes attributed to Mr Methold are recorded in paragraph 142 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  6. The cluster in question is identified as OSV06-C01 in the ES. Mr Methold’s comment is recorded in paragraph 142 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015
  7. All of the quotes attributed to Mr Methold are recorded in paragraph 134 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The relevant section of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2011 would appear to be Schedule 4 Part 1. The relevant provision of the NPSE is paragraph 2.24.
  8. Mr Thornely-Taylor’s evidence session was heard at the start of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 (video).
  9. Recorded in paragraphs 200 to 214 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.

Acknowledgements:

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

Exhibit A1571(25) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by Rick Methold and published on the website of the HS2 Select Committee.

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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