Gladiatorial games, part 10

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 9, posted on 17 Jan 2016).

In part 9 I reported the concerns about the impact of HS2 on locations that currently enjoy a tranquil noise environment that had been expressed to the HS2 Select Committee by acousticians Doug Sharps and Rick Methold when they had appeared at separate sessions of the Committee (see footnote 1). Both had expressed fears that HS2 noise in such circumstances, even if predicted to be below the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) threshold, may have an appreciable effect on the “perceived quality of life” of affected residents. Despite appearing to accept this possibility, HS2 Ltd has not, as I reported in part 9, taken locations predicted to be in this situation into account in its noise mitigation to date, and has no plans to do so as the design progresses.

I also reported the stated view of the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, that the “the public interest demands” that residents must accept this state of affairs.

You may be wondering what the view of the Promoter’s acoustics expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, is on this matter. He was given the opportunity to enlighten us when, in cross-examination during the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) petition hearing, it was put to him that “the introduction of a new source of noise into a very quiet area may have a markedly different impact upon quality of life in a rural area, compared to an urban one”. Characteristically, I feel, he sought to downplay the significance of operating HS2 through quiet rural areas and his response to the proposition put to him by HS2AA’s counsel is unlikely to offer much consolation to those that currently enjoy a tranquil environment (see footnote 2):

“Different, but not necessarily in the same direction, because a big feature of introducing railway noise to a rural area is, in between the trains, it sounds exactly the same as it did before the project was constructed.”

Do I detect a slight lack of sincerity here?

Mr Thornely-Taylor was also, I feel, very evasive when invited, during the same session of cross-examination, to identify where the difference between noise from HS2 and the background is taken into account in the design criteria specified in Information Paper E20; he would only say (see footnote 3):

“Where there is a significant effect, environmental assessment law requires mitigation to be considered and, wherever there is a significant effect identified in the way I’ve explained, mitigation is required to be considered for those communities.”

But, of course, Mr Thornely-Taylor is fully aware that there are no circumstances in which HS2 Ltd considers that the effect of HS2 noise that is predicted to be below the LOAEL threshold can be “significant”.

A consistent thread through the evidence given on behalf of Chiltern District Council by Mr Methold was to examine whether the Promoter was meeting the expectations of government noise policy as set out in the Defra document Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE), and that test is very relevant when it comes to tranquil areas. The second aim of the NPSE is to “mitigate and minimise adverse impacts on health and quality of life” by the “effective management and control of environmental, neighbour and neighbourhood noise”. It appears to me that residents of currently tranquil locations through which HS2 is destined to pass are in very great danger of suffering an adverse impact on their quality of life, something that Mr Mould seems to tacitly accept. If that proposition is accepted, then it is surely, prima facie, counter to the NPSE aim not to seek to mitigate and minimise that impact.

That this is the case, is surely underlined by Defra’s explanatory note to the third aim of the NPSE, which requires noise polluters to “where possible, contribute to the improvement of health and quality of life”. This note explicitly mentions “the protection of quiet places” as a factor that will assist with the delivery of the aim (see footnote 4).

In identifying remedies for the issue of HS2 noise affecting tranquil environments the two petitioner’s experts took different approaches, but both centred on a change to the way that the LOAEL concept is implemented.

Mr Methold proposed a general decrease in the LOAEL daytime threshold from 50dB LpAeq,16hr to 45dB LpAeq,16hr, whilst retaining the methodology prescribed currently in Information Paper E20, to determine an adverse effect (see footnote 5). Whilst this change would go some way towards improving the situation it does not directly address the problems that a change in noise exposure can bring, and I prefer the approach suggested by Mr Sharps. The HS2AA expert advocated that a second set of LOAEL and SOAEL, 10dB(A) less than the “standard set”, should apply for areas designated as “quiet” (see footnote 6).

The Promoter gave every indication that he did not feel inclined to accept either of these proposals, however.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Sharps appeared as an expert witness at the session held on the afternoon of Monday 12thOctober 2015 at which submissions on noise issues by the HS2 Action Alliance were heard (video). Mr Methold served in the same capacity for Chiltern District Council (CDC): the evidence presented on behalf of CDC occupied the whole of the morning session held on Wednesday 4th November 2015 (video) and the Promoter’s response was given in a shorter than usual afternoon session (video).
  2. See paragraph 273 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  3. See paragraph 285 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 2.25 of the NPSE.
  5. See exhibit A1574(6) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by CDC.
  6. See exhibit A1436(20) in the bundle of exhibits deposited with the Select Committee by HS2AA.

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 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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