Gladiatorial games, part 7

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 6, posted on 12 Dec 2015).

The first champion for the Promoter to get a tilt at the expert witness fielded by Chiltern District Council (CDC) at the two sessions of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 was his Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC. During his cross-examination of that witness, Rick Methold, the counsel questioned him on the allegation that he had made that “HS2 is misusing the World Health Organisation guidance levels”; you will recall from part 6 that HS2 Ltd is comparing noise from HS2 sources only with the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold to determine if an adverse effect was predicted, whereas CDC claims that it should be the resulting total noise level that is used for this purpose (see footnote 1).

Due to the learned counsel conflating the two separate points about an appropriate level for LOAEL and whether it should be measured against total noise, the dispute between interrogator and witness became somewhat defocussed. At first, Mr Mould took a legalistic approach and moved proceedings to a consideration of the meaning of the words used in World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines – in particular he promoted the thesis that the use of the word “activity” implied a single source of noise, rather than the totality of noise from all sources contributing to the noise environment. This lawyer’s quibbling over semantics led to a rather amusing session of what Mr Mould termed “the battle of the paragraph”, where Mr Methold produced a new extract from the WHO guidelines to trump each of Mr Mould’s cards as he played them – as I said it was amusing, but was fairly arid ground for those of us trying to understand the Promoter’s justification for taking issue with CDC (see footnote 2).

Far more apposite was Mr Mould’s claim that “we’re still not yet in a position where there is a reliable basis upon which to model … total annoyance due to a combination of environmental noise sources” and his ability to quote some support from the WHO guidelines (see footnote 3):

“There is no consensus on a model for assessing the total annoyance due to a combination of environmental noise sources.”

This point had also been made by the Promoter’s expert witness on noise, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, when he had given evidence at a previous hearing (see footnote 4).

“…as I explained in earlier evidence, it is a mistake to think that – because mathematically you can combine noise from different classes of source and get a number – it tells you what the aggregate annoyance is, because annoyance due to on[e] class of source is different for the same Leq level as it is due to another class of source. All attempts that researchers have made to find a way of combining noise from different classes of source into an index which actually did match the answers you get from social surveys have failed.”

However, as Counsel for CDC, Gwion Lewis, pointed out to Mr Thornely-Taylor during his cross-examination, the impacts recorded in the Environmental Statement had been (see footnote 5):

“… calculated by looking at the total ambient noise that results from the scheme, by cementing the noise from the HS2 scheme, with other ambient [non-railway] noise sources.”

At the very least, this would appear to indicate a somewhat ambivalent position on the part of the Promoter regarding the advisability/feasibility of combining the impacts of noise from different sources.

On the more direct point of whether HS2 Ltd had misinterpreted the WHO guidelines, Mr Thornely-Taylor offered a somewhat brass-necked defence. Whilst apparently conceding that the WHO guidelines made its recommendations on the basis of total noise and admitting that “HS2 hadn’t taken the WHO guidelines opinion” in using HS2 noise only to determine if LOAEL had been exceeded, he offered the explanation that HS2 Ltd had instead “taken the research that underlies the opinion, which the authors of the guidelines reached”. He added (see footnote 6):

“It is true one or more of the authors of the guidelines have expressed views which extend the conclusions of the research but HS2 relies on the research itself.”

During his October session with the Select Committee, which I have referred to above, Mr Thornley-Taylor had been kind enough to offer a modicum of explanation for this stance, citing three papers that had been included in the research underling the WHO guidelines: one of these was specifically about railway noise; the second considered aircraft noise; and, the third had as its subject highway noise. This, so Mr Thornely-Taylor claimed, meant that the WHO guidelines applied to “specific sources” rather than, as the Counsel for HS2 Action Alliance put to him, to “noise emitted from all sources except noise at the industrial workplace” (see footnote 7).

This seems to me a flimsy pretext upon which to base such a major heresy as going against “the WHO guidelines opinion”.

During Mr Thornely-Taylor’s evidence the Chairman of the Select Committee, Robert Syms MP, felt obliged to apologise for the “smell in the room”, admitting that he was “not quite sure what it is”. Could it have been the odour of bulls**t, I wonder?

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The cross-examination may be viewed from 12:02hrs in the video and is recorded in paragraph 422 onwards in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The allegation may be found in paragraph 175 of the transcript.
  2. This section of the cross-examination runs from paragraph 514 to paragraph 548 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The phase attributed to Mr Mould is recorded in paragraph 545 of that transcript.
  3. See paragraph 549 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The extract from the WHO publication Guidelines for Community Noise may be found in the second paragraph of section 3.9.
  4. Mr Thornely-Taylor was appearing at the hearing of the noise aspects of the petition of the HS2 Action Alliance that took place on the afternoon of Monday 12thOctober 2015. The extract is taken from paragraph 260 in the transcript of that session.
  5. See paragraph 85 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  6. See paragraphs 55 and 59 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  7. See paragraphs 260, 262 and 265 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 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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