Gladiatorial games, part 24

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 23, posted on 22 Apr 2016).

In presenting this series so far I have principally followed the evidence given for Chiltern District Council, acting as lead local authority on HS2 operational noise, by acoustician Rick Methold. However, on occasion I have also referred to evidence given to the HS2 Select Committee approximately three weeks prior to Mr Methold’s appearance by fellow acoustics expert Doug Sharps, appearing for the HS2 Action Alliance (see footnote 1). There was a great deal of common ground between these two experts, but Mr Sharps did raise issues that were not in Mr Methold’s evidence, and I will complete my review by concentrating upon a couple of those matters.

The first of these was succinctly summarised by the Alliance’s counsel, Reuben Taylor QC, as the failure of the Promoter’s noise assessment and mitigation proposals to “protect the noise environment in the evening, at a time when children are trying to get to sleep and people want to relax” (see footnote 2).

In his evidence, Mr Sharps explained that there was “a greater sensitivity to noise in the evening for social reasons, and because the [background] noise level during the evening is lower than it is during the day”. He claimed that this effect was recognised by “both government policy and the World Health Organisation” and that “noise criteria during the evening … should be 5-10dB lower than during the daytime”. His solution was to apply “more stringent assessment criteria for the evening than there should be for the day” and he set out on his exhibit A1436(19) proposed values for LOAEL (lowest observed adverse effect level) and SOAEL (significant observed adverse effect level) thresholds to apply during the evening period  that were 5dB lower than the equivalent daytime values. Mr Sharps told the Select Committee that “HS2 itself has separate lower evening LOAEL values in its construction impact assessment, but none for rail noise” (see footnote 3).

In his cross-examination of Mr Sharps, the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, put it to him that “there is no data – in the WHO guidelines or elsewhere – which supports, on the basis of observation, the setting of a different and more challenging LOAEL for evening operation of the railway” (see footnote 4). Whilst Mr Sharps conceded this point, he countered that, nevertheless, “what the WHO guidelines say is that you should adopt a lower guideline value for the evening than the one chosen for the day” (see footnote 5). He also claimed that the Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE) required the consideration of, inter alia, “the time of day/evening etc that the noise will occur” (see footnote 6).

Towards the end of the HS2 Action Alliance hearing we heard from Rupert Thornely-Taylor in his capacity as expert acoustics witness for the Promoter. His verdict was that “there isn’t an evidence base” for claiming that sensitivity to noise is greater in the evenings and that “one could say that the reverse is true for some people”. He added (see footnote 7):

“People who are working at home during the day might be more sensitive to noise during the day than in the evening and other people may in fact be relaxing in the evening and making their own noise by watching the television, and there isn’t a fundamental reason for treating the evening differently.”

He also told the Committee (see footnote 8):

“Dose response information, where there have been social surveys of people’s reaction to noise in their environment, is in reality mostly about people’s reactions to noise in the evening, because a great many people are not in their homes during the day time. Those who are are people working at home, who might find the day, as I said, more sensitive than the evening, and other carers and retired people, who might be watching daytime television or what have you, when there is not necessarily any difference between the day time and the evening. In reality, the data we have, from social survey responses into people’s sensitivity to their environment, are actually about the evening, in the main.”

Mr Thornely-Taylor also sought to undermine Mr Sharps’ claim of World Health Organisation (WHO) support for his position on susceptibility to noise in the evenings. The Promoter’s witness referred the Committee to the “main summary table of guideline values” in Guidelines for Community Noise (see footnote 9). He pointed out that there are three instances in that table where recommendations are identified as relating to “daytime and evening”, without any distinction being drawn (see footnote 10). What he conveniently ignored, however, is that section 4.4 of the WHO document, which contains the table of guideline values, includes in the text the recommendation that guideline values for evenings should be 5-10dB lower.

When challenged about this in cross-examination, however, he accepted that the table was “not actually incompatible” with the 5-10dB recommendation as “you could apportion the 16-hour day with more noise during the day and less noise during the evening”, but he reiterated, at the same time, his opinion that this would not be appropriate (see footnote 11).

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The evidence presented by Mr Sharps was heard during the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Monday 12thOctober 2015 (video and transcript).
  2. See paragraph 3 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  3. All of the quotes are recorded in paragraph 28 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 151 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  5. See paragraph 156 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015. The WHO recommendation may be found in the final paragraph of section 4.2.7 of Guidelines for Community Noise.
  6. See paragraph 155 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015. Mr Sharps’ claim regarding the NPSE appears somewhat tentative, relying, as it appears to, on a passing reference to “at different times” in paragraph 2.21 in the Explanatory Note and, possibly, a mention of protecting “quiet times” in paragraph 2.25 therein.
  7. See paragraph 230 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  8. See paragraph 295 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  9. On page 65 of Guidelines for Community Noise.
  10. See paragraph 231 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thOctober 2015.
  11. See paragraph 293 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12th October 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 A1436(19) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by Doug Sharps and published on the website of the HS2 Select Committee.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog has 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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