Environmental understatement, part 2

(… continued from Environmental understatement, part 1, posted on 31 Jul 2016).

Having shown that the bulk of his village of Offchurch, far from experiencing HS2 operational noise below the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) as the maps in the Environmental Statement would have us believe, will actually be above the LOAEL LAMax threshold, Cllr Burgun asked a very pertinent question that is entirely consistent with the noise policy aim of the Noise Policy Statement for England to “mitigate and minimise adverse impacts on health and quality of life” (see footnote 1):

“… what further mitigation measures could the promoter consider, which would reduce this operational noise effect, and which of them does he intend to implement?”

Typically, the response that the councillor received from the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, was to play down the importance of Cllr Burgun’s revelation: after all Mr Mould is being paid to represent his client’s interests, not to assist petitioners who are seeking better mitigation (see footnote 2). Whilst he admitted that “the Lmax predications (sic) in the environmental statement do show that there are some assessment points where we’re predicting Lmax emissions in excess of the 60dB threshold” and that there was “some evidence of predicted exceedances of the lowest observed adverse effect level”, his careful choice of words appears designed to convey the impression of minor and infrequent “exceedances”, rather than the wholesale underestimation of the properties that would experience HS2 operational noise above the LOAEL threshold that Cllr Burgun had made evident (see footnote 3).

Mr Mould’s attempt to gainsay the importance of the “exceedances” included pointing out that, in the strict terminology employed in the NPSE, none of those that had been identified by Cllr Burgun were “significant”. In virtually the same breath, however, he showed this to be irrelevant to Cllr Burgun’s request by admitting that the “design objective” set by HS2 Information Paper E20 is “to take steps, through design and operation of the train, to reduce impact so that they are at or below that LOAEL threshold”, which is precisely what Cllr Burgun was requesting (see footnote 4).

Nevertheless, what Mr Mould had to say next did appear to address Cllr Burgun’s request directly, and came, at least to me, as something of a surprise. He reminded the Committee that the “direct purpose” of the 60dB LOAEL threshold is “to govern the operation of the train during the night-time, and train operation of the nighttime period for these purposes is between 11 o’clock in the evening and seven o’clock in the morning”. He asserted, although without providing any support for his claim, that “the period between 11 and 12, it’s that hour that we’re particularly concerned with” (see footnote 5).

Mr Mould reminded the Committee that the Promoter’s expert witness on noise, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, had told them that (see footnote 6):

“… there will be opportunities for the promoter, for the Secretary of State and for those who are the nominated undertaker, to consider, for that particular hour, 11 and 12 in the evening, if, following design and coming into operation, trains are still generating levels which exceed that 60dB Lmax and there is evidence that there is some degree of disturbance being generated to people living along the route, then there are options available, one of which, as Mr Thornely-Taylor frankly explained to you, was for that last hour of the operation of the train, to consider whether there should be some degree of adjustment of speed”.

From a context that he had provided earlier (see footnote 7), it is clear that Mr Mould was referring to the occasion on 6th July when Mr Thornely-Taylor had given a presentation on sound to the Committee and then hosted a visit to the Arup SoundLab. Since I have been unable to find any reference to the tentative proposal to mitigate operational noise by a limited speed reduction in the transcript of the public session, I assume that Mr Thornely-Taylor’s comments were probably made during the informal SoundLab session and, regrettably as a consequence, are not on the public record, so we are not party to his thoughts on the matter.

The possible imposition of night-time speed restrictions is an interesting proposition: reducing the maximum speed allowed by 30km/hr, or so, should allow a decrease in the worst peak operational noise of around 3-4dB. The operational impacts are likely to be slight, as the need for late-running trains to overspeed in order to catch up with the timetable is probably less pressing for the final handful of services. As a mitigation measure it has the considerable advantage of bringing relief to all those living close to any section of the line where a speed restriction is imposed, rather than just benefiting a few. Notwithstanding, it would be wrong, I think, to restrict any such measure to the last hour of the operational day: any perceived need for mitigation that might lead to a speed restriction being applied would, surely, be just as essential during the first two hours of the operational day, between 05:00hrs and 07:00hrs – a point which Cllr Burgun made to the Committee, although I suspect that he was thinking more in terms of mitigation for all hours of operation, day or night (see footnote 8).

Irrespective of whether the speed reduction proposal would be beneficial to the residents of Offchurch, or not, it was clearly not one that Cllr Burgun was able to count upon. Mr Mould told the Committee that he wasn’t prepared to commit to such a step “at this stage”. He referred the Committee to the “Secretary of State’s commitment that he will take steps during design and operation to design and operate the railway to those LOAEL thresholds that are set out in [Information Paper E20]” and described this as one made “to all the world”. He expressed that, in view of this, to give an assurance to one particular parish council would “simply be to duplicate that design commitment the Secretary of State has given” (footnote 9).

I suspect that Cllr Burgun, who regards his community as currently “one quiet area”, will not be too confident in relying upon the Secretary of State to determine its future noise environment.


  1. See paragraph 1.7 of the March 2010 Defra publication, Noise Policy Statement for England. Cllr Burgun’s request is recorded in paragraph 34 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  2. According to an article in the Daily Mail, “Barrister Tim Mould, who has been employed to block growing opposition to the project from residents, businesses and MPs, has been paid £679,675.10 by the Department for Transport since 2013, not including around £136,000 in VAT”.
  3. See paragraphs 51 and 52 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  4. For Mr Mould’s comments see paragraphs 52 and 53 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016. According to Table 1 in Appendix B to HS2 Information Paper E20, the significant observed adverse effect level (SOAEL) for Offchurch, where we can expect more than twenty nightly train pass-bys, is 80dB LpAFMax at the façade. The highest level shown in Cllr Burgun’s tabulation for Offchurch is equivalent to 73dB at the façade.
  5. See paragraph 54 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  6. See paragraph 55 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  7. See paragraph 52 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.
  8. See paragraph 82 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016. That a general reduction of the maximum operating speed would bring noise mitigation benefits was a proposal suggested by petitioners appearing before the Commons Select Committee.
  9. See paragraphs 56 and 57 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 19thJuly 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords 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.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on August 4, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    You have highlighted a serious deficiency in HS2 that needs to be addressed before the awful thing is built, not by a squabble about speed and noise when it’s up and running. I foresee local authority EHO’s measuring the noise and forcing HS2 to slow down. Perhaps you can get your MP to ask in parliament, what measures will be used to combat excessive noise and if that is to be by reducing the speed, what effect that will have on the economic case.


    • I cannot use the MP route that you suggest Les as mine is a government minister (Jeremy Wright the Attorney General) and therefore unable to table parliamentary questions. So others will need to take this on.
      I think that it might help with getting this issue across if as many petitioners as possible comment on it when raising noise issues with the Lords Select Committee.


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