Gladiatorial games, part 8

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 7, posted on 16 Dec 2015).

In part 7 I described the way in which HS2 Ltd had compared noise from HS2 sources only with the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold to determine if an adverse effect was predicted, and referred to this as a “major heresy” with respect to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO). I regard this as a fair criticism because I feel that the Promoter’s Counsel’s attempts to demonstrate that this approach is consistent with the text of the WHO guidelines fail in the face of the totally unequivocal statement by Professor Berglund that I reported in part 6. Surely there is no better authority for interpreting the WHO guidelines than Professor Berglund, and she says that to apply the WHO guideline values “to source-specific noise immissions … alone” is the “most common misuse” of them. So, whilst HS2 Ltd may not be alone in committing this misinterpretation, it appears futile for them to claim that they are following the guidelines.

The Promoter’s acoustics expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, appears to appreciate this, as his defence is that the underlying research that Professor Berglund and her colleagues utilised in drawing up the guidelines does not support her interpretation. So, the guidelines are wrong. Mr Thornely-Taylor is perfectly entitled to his personal opinion, of course, but this stance surely raises the question of whether a government-sponsored, nationally-significant project should be taking issue with an accepted international canon. I can understand the temptation to go out on a limb in this case – the change that I report in part 6 in the number of “adverse effect” ratings for CFA10 that results from moving from considering HS2 noise alone to taking account of total noise indicates that the picture worsens dramatically – but this hardly justifies doing it.

By knowingly misinterpreting the WHO guidelines in this way, HS2 Ltd undermines the integrity of its own policy statement in Information Paper E20; carefully chosen words have been employed that, at worst are designed to deceive, and, on the very best interpretation, could inadvertently lead the unwary reader to conclude (wrongly) that the choice of 50dB LAeq as the LOAEL threshold for HS2 noise is consistent with the guidelines (see footnote 1).

Mr Thornely-Taylor was not, it appears, on the surest of ground with his other stated reason for diverging from the WHO guidelines in this respect – that a method for linking the effects of combined noise from different sources to the annoyance suffered by persons exposed to it has, so far, evaded researchers. In his evidence to the HS2 Select Committee Rick Methold, the noise expert put up by Chiltern District Council, claimed that Mr Thornely-Taylor’s too hard to do evaluation was, very much, based upon “old information” and that his profession had “moved on” (see footnote 2).

Mr Methold told the Committee that an algorithm “for combining annoyance from different transportation sources” had been published by the European Environment Agency (see footnote 3). He did concede that the current version of International Standard ISO1996-1 was “still casting some doubt about” how combining noise from different sources might be achieved. Indeed, that document does describe three candidate methods in an “informative” annex, which are described as “still under development (see footnote 4). However, Mr Methold informed the Committee that the standard was “going to be re-published next year” and forecast that this new version “will have quite clear guidance on how to combine annoyance from different noise sources”.

If Mr Methold is correct in this prediction, then the up-issue of ISO1996-1 could provide the first real test of the assurance that I reported in part 2 that the LANC has secured from the Promoter regarding taking into consideration any new research findings that emerge. Surely, if clear guidance does emerge from ISO on a methodology for combing noise from different sources, then this should constitute “new research” that triggers a rethink on the LOAEL calculations for HS2 Phase 1, and a consequently large increase in the number of receptors that are rated as experiencing an adverse effect from HS2 noise. Any widening of the area impacted by noise from HS2 could also trigger a reappraisal of mitigation proposals – something that I feel is likely to encounter some reluctance on the part of the nominated undertaker.

It is a shame that the opportunity of the Select Committee hearing was missed to ask the Promoter directly what he would do if the predicted change to ISO1996-1 does happen next year.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Paragraph 14 of Appendix A to Information Paper E20 states:
    “For the daytime level, the information used to support the WHO Guidelines for Community Noise indicate that daytime sound levels of less than 50 dB LpAeq cause little or no serious annoyance in the community.”
    The emphasis of the italic font has been added by me. The putative subterfuge is compounded by adding a reference to the World Health Organisation (1999) Guidelines for Community Noise as the source document, rather than the research papers that were identified by Mr Thornely-Taylor in his evidence given in October.
  2. See paragraph 397 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015.
  3. See paragraph 396 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. I believe that the algorithm referred to by Mr Methold is set out in Annex V to EEA Technical Report No 11/2010, Good practice guide on noise exposure and potential health effects.
  4. Mr Methold’s words are taken from paragraph 397 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 4thNovember 2015. The candidate combining methodologies are described in Annex E to the second edition of the International Organization for Standardization publication ISO1996 Acoustics – Description, measurement and assessment of environmental noise, Part 1: Basic quantities and assessment procedures.

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 the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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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