Gladiatorial games, part 28

(… continued from Gladiatorial games, part 27, posted on 8 May 2016).

Gladiatorial games has turned out to be the longest multipart blog that I have authored so far, easily surpassing my previously most extended effort, Lessons from history, which only (!) runs to sixteen episodes. My original mission, as I expressed it in part 1 of the series, was “to make some sense” of the evidence on noise presented to the HS2 Select Committee by Chiltern District Council, to which I later added complementary evidence given by the HS2 Action Alliance. It is clear in part 1 that I didn’t intend, at the outset, that the explication would expand quite the way that it has – the evidence itself was very meaty and led to my own researches which have added to the bulk – so I apologise for that. What I hope that I have achieved, notwithstanding, is a comprehensive resource that petitioners to the House of Lords wishing to raise issues about noise will be able to dip into for information and understanding that will enable them to sharpen up their act; some of the presentations to the Commons Select Committee that I heard were woefully misinformed.

It occurs to me that it might be helpful to anyone wishing to access the information in this series relating to a particular topic to have a list of topics and the part numbers where they can be found, and that is what I have provided below:

Introduction and negotiations with Local Authorities’ Noise Consortium (LANC) – part 1

Assurances agreed on taking developments from research and foreseeable circumstances into account in detailed design – part 2

Matters not yet agreed – part 3

Review of methodology for the assessment of daytime operational airborne noise effects in the Environmental Statement – part 4 and part 5

Total noise should be utilised when determining if LOAEL and SOAEL will be exceeded – part 6, part 7 and part 8

Increased impact in currently tranquil areas – part 9 and part 10

Appropriate levels for LOAEL and SOAEL thresholds

The context for the discussion that I have presented in this blog series is summarised in the opening paragraph (paragraph 2.1) of the Explanatory Note to the Defra document Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE), which says:

“Noise is an inevitable consequence of a mature and vibrant society. For some the noise of city life provides a desirable sense of excitement and exhilaration, but for others noise is an unwanted intrusion that adversely impacts on their quality of life, affecting their health and well being.”

For most people who will find themselves living within earshot of HS2 it is the potentially adverse “impacts on their quality of life” of the noise that is their concern, and even residents of Camden, who may indeed find living in our nation’s capital city exciting and exhilarating, are anxious about the possible impacts of the noise that will be generated by a major construction project taking place on their doorsteps.

Government has a duty to protect the environment and the health and wellbeing of its citizens, and with HS2 the two go hand in hand. It is also, however, an aspiration of both the Government and, I would venture, the people that it serves to build, as stated in NPSE paragraph 1.8, “a strong, stable and sustainable economy which provides prosperity and opportunities for all”.

These two functions of government give rise to a dichotomy, or as the NPSE has it (paragraph 2.18):

“There is a need to integrate consideration of the economic and social benefit of the activity or policy under examination with proper consideration of the adverse environmental effects, including the impact of noise on health and quality of life.”

The NPSE appears, in paragraph 2.7, to give a clear steer on which side of the bread the Government thinks it should apply the butter when deciding, in the words of paragraph 2.4 therein, “what is an acceptable noise burden to place on society”:

“In the past, the wider benefits of a particular policy, development or other activity may not have been given adequate weight when assessing the noise implications.”

It appears to be a fact of the way that the UK is governed today that what the NPSE identifies as the “guiding principles of Government policy on sustainable development” (paragraph 1.8) are always the trump card when it comes to clashes with principles of good husbandry of the environment, including the management of noise – a rule that appears to apply whether the development in question is demonstrably “sustainable” or not.

Many, like me, think that the pendulum has swung far too far in that direction, and I guess that the two expert witnesses whose evidence I have examined in this series, and many petitioners who appeared before the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee, would be amongst those ranks.

Acknowledgement: I wish to express my special thanks to Michael Woodhouse, who has stuck with me for the long haul to this final part, for his suggestions and comments, which I have found invaluable throughout.

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