Berth defect, part 1

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is a membership charity that works to protect and restore the country’s 6,500 miles of canals and rivers for the benefit of users of both the waterway and the towpath. The Association petitioned against HS2 in both Houses of Parliament and appeared before both select committees, represented on both occasions by volunteer trustee Grenville Messham (see footnote 1).

At both of his appearances at Westminster Mr Messham led with his concerns about the impacts that HS2 noise would have upon canal users. His worries could be classified as impacts upon the amenity value of the parts of the canal system that will be affected by HS2, and a more specific concern about sleep disturbance for boaters mooring overnight near HS2 canal crossing points. Both of these areas raise interesting discussion points and are, I feel, worthy of further consideration here.

On the general question of amenity value, it was Mr Messham’s contention that “most people use their waterways … as a place for recreation and quiet reflection”, and that boaters at some locations on the canal network “will experience noise and nuisance [from HS2 trains] of well over 90 dB” (see footnote 2). Whilst it is clear that HS2 noise will reduce the amenity value of the canals for its users, it might be argued that canal users are no different in this respect to other recreational users of the countryside. Walkers on a footpath that crosses or runs alongside or bridges the HS2 track, for example, will suffer a similar loss of amenity.

In general, however, the noise management policy that has been developed for the HS2 project does not include amongst its aims the protection of open countryside. This, no doubt in part at least, is a reflection on the concentration of the principles of the Noise Policy Statement for England on the long-term effects on health and wellbeing resulting from exposure to noise and, hence, primarily to protecting locations where people live and work. Bearing in mind the cost implications, and even sheer impracticability, of seeking to protect from the impacts of HS2 noise every parcel of open countryside having amenity value, it could be considered that there is not a case, in general, that HS2 Ltd should be going beyond its current proposals, which rely primarily on specifying noise reduction features for the trains. Nevertheless, the third aim of the Noise Policy Statement for England, seeking to contribute to the “improvement of health and quality of life through the effective management and control of environmental, neighbour and neighbourhood noise”, is connected in the Explanatory Note to the Policy to the “protection of quiet places and quiet times” and so perhaps HS2 Ltd should be seeking to do more (see footnote 3).

I also feel that Mr Messham was able to plead special circumstances that relate to waterway users that strengthen the case for additional mitigation measures against HS2 noise impacts on our canals.

These follow because the reason that the HS2 track comes close to a canal in the majority of cases is because it has to cross that canal. Such a crossing normally involves a section of viaduct between two lengths of embankment. Mr Messham advised the Commons Select Committee that, by agreement between HS2 Ltd and the Canal & River Trust (CRT), the minimum clearance that will be provided for such a crossing is three metres above the water. This means that boaters passing under the viaduct could come very close indeed to a high-speed train running at, or near, its maximum operating speed – “well within 10 metres” according to Mr Messham. Whilst the exposure to such an extreme noise event  will be for a short time only, it will cause, according to Mr Messham, an “instantaneous change in sound levels of over 40 dB” and there will be “very little boaters can do to avoid this noise” (see footnote 4).

Mr Messham told the Lords Select Committee that, by agreement with the CRT, “it’s specified in the design principles for crossings that the design of acoustic barriers should be low-level and as close as is reasonably practical to the tracks to minimise visual impact”. He added that “this applies only to bridge or viaduct structures at crossings, and the agreement … is silent about noise mitigation for the approaches either side of the crossings”. The IWA, according to Mr Messham, “regards this as very much a minimum position”, being an arrangement which “will shield noise from the train wheels on the track, but do nothing to reduce noise from the pantographs or the overhead wires, and have little effect on aerodynamic noise from the passage of trains through the air”(see footnote 5).

In order to illustrate the potential that HS2 has to cause nuisance to canal users, Mr Messham showed the Lords Select Committee a noise contour map for the Oxford Canal near Wormleighton, Warwickshire, similar to the one reproduced below (see footnote 6).

Source: HS2 Ltd

Mr Messham described, for the benefit of the Committee, that “as the railway travels from right to left, it moves from level ground … in to a viaduct where a footpath goes underneath, and then crosses the canal itself in a small viaduct” and pointed out that “noise nuisance above SOAEL spreads across the canal” (see footnote 7).

(To be concluded …)


  1. The appearance before the Commons Select Committee is reported from paragraph 246 of the transcript of the Committee’s proceedings for the morning of Thursday 4thFebruary 2016. The Lords session was held on the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd November 2016 and is recorded from paragraph 23 of the transcript for that session.
  2. See paragraphs 250 and 253 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Thursday 4thFebruary 2016.
  3. See paragraph 2.25 in the Explanatory Note to the publication Noise Policy Statement for England (NPSE), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, March 2010. Mr Messham also reminded the Commons Select Committee of this aim of the NPSE: see paragraph 256 of the transcript of the morning session of the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Thursday 4thFebruary 2016.
  4. See paragraph 253 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Thursday 4thFebruary 2016.
  5. See paragraph 34 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  6. Due to an error on the Lords Select Committee website, I have not been able to access a copy of the exhibit used by Mr Messham. Instead I have utilised a section of the HS2 Ltd noise contour map included in the Environmental Statement, which is SV-05-040b in the publication London-West Midlands Environmental Statement Volume 2: Map Book CFA17 Offchurch and Cubbington, HS2 Ltd, November 2013. I have added the blue serpentine line to emphasise the path taken by the Oxford Canal.
  7. See paragraph 36 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016. SOAEL is the noise level at which significant adverse effects begin to be observed, and locations at which this level is predicted to be exceeded are indicated on the noise contour map by the pink shading.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd route design is overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee from which some of 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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