Berth defect, part 2

(… continued from Berth defect, part 1, posted on 3 May 2017).

In the example that I reported at the end of part 1 of the Oxford Canal near Wormleighton, which was shown to the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee by the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) representative Grenville Messham, the noise contour prediction (see footnote 1) shows that two nearby sections in a stretch of that canal will be subjected to noise above the significant observed adverse effect level (SOAEL). Each of these sections is approximately 250 metres long, so at an assumed boat speed of 1.1 mps transiting each section will take around 4 minutes. At the maximum traffic level planned for HS2 of 18 trains per hour each way, each transit could cover four train passes.

But these two sections are within a longer stretch of the canal that is predicted to experience HS2 noise levels above the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL). This stretch is approximately 2.5 km, taking around forty minutes to navigate; enough time to experience up to twenty-five train passes.

But some sections of canal do not permit unhindered passage, because they require the boater to negotiate one, or more, locks. Mr Messham told the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee that a lock “takes you about 20 minutes to work” and showed the Members his exhibit A2108(4), depicting a section of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal near Kingsbury in north Warwickshire. He pointed out that there are “four locks that are within that canal within reasonable range of the [HS2] viaduct”, which he had “shown by four red circles”. He concluded that “assuming there are no holdups or queues, it will take you on your boat around 80 minutes to work through those four locks past the viaduct” and that, during that time, “you can’t be inside the boat – you have to be out and about doing the locks and stuff” and, therefore, are fully exposed to the noise (see footnote 2).

When he pleaded his case to the Lords Select Committee Mr Messham raised the possibility that boaters could spend an even longer period within a stretch of canal blighted by HS2 noise if they made use of a “casual mooring” for an overnight berth. He explained (see footnote 3):

“Individual boats come and go for moorings. If a mooring is occupied by a succession of people on boats, there is then surely a frequent residential presence that should not be ignored. Noise mitigation to residential standards would not be refused for a hotel or a hospital because the rooms are not permanently occupied by the same people. The fact that people reside there for various periods of time is sufficient to merit their protection from excess noise impacts and the same principle should apply to boats.”

The Promoter was represented by James Strachan QC in the Commons and Tim Mould QC in the Lords, and it was the latter who explained his client’s position more fully. He stated that the SOAEL and LOAEL thresholds had been specified on the basis of “permanent occupancy by the same people”, reflecting the “evidence base upon which [these thresholds] are actually derived”. The data forming this evidence base, according to the silk, “derive from a panoply of social services in relation to evidence of the health effects of transport noise on people in their bedrooms and in their living rooms” and they “don’t provide a reliable basis for developing thresholds for those in temporary sleeping, as it were, on a temporary mooring on a canal” (see footnote 4). He did concede, however, that the Promoter treats “permanent residential moorings in the same way as … permanent residential buildings” (see footnote 5).

Mr Mould asserted that “the same criteria do not apply” to temporary moorings where “the exposure of the occupants would be limited to the time that the boat is there, typically a maximum of 14 days”. He said that he recognised that a mooring exposed to HS2 noise might be “a less congenial place to stop than perhaps 200 metres away or something like that”, but that a move up the canal a little to ensure a better night’s sleep was “a relatively small price to pay” (see footnote 6).

Mr Mould conceded that the “1.4-metre-high acoustic barriers” that would be installed at “all HS2 canal crossing points” would not “provide attenuation to the pantograph [noise]”, but pointed out “the visual effect of having very substantial barriers on bridges going over canals in what are generally rural areas” and that the additional screening that Mr Messham was seeking was “simply disproportionate” (see footnote 7).

Neither of the Promoter’s silks made reference to the possibility of providing mitigation on the approaches to the viaducts.

The Promoter’s representations clearly held sway over both committees, since the only references in the reports made by them to their respective Houses to canal users, which are both in the Lords report, relate to long-term moorings and the problems of adding sound insulation to canal boats (see footnote 8).

Aside from his pleadings for those making use of casual moorings, which I regard as stretching things a little beyond reason, I feel that Mr Messham made a good case that canal users should be given special consideration with regard to noise mitigation. In its written submission to the Commons Select Committee the IWA lists eight locations on the canal network where it is seeking an improvement in the mitigation proposed for Phase 1. Making some improvements at this small number of locations hardly seems disproportionate to me and, as Mr Messham pointed out to the Lords Select Committee “can be accommodated within the existing land take and powers” (see footnote 9).

I think that HS2 Ltd should rethink its intransigence.

Footnotes:

  1. See drawing SV-05-040b in the publication London-West Midlands Environmental Statement Volume 2: Map Book CFA16 Ladbroke and Southam, HS2 Ltd, November 2013.
  2. See paragraph 254 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 32 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  4. See paragraph 80 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  5. See paragraph 79 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  6. See paragraphs 84 and 87 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  7. See paragraphs 85 and 88 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  8. See paragraphs 152 and 369 in the publication Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, House of Lords Select committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 15thDecember 2016.
  9. See paragraph 33 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.

Acknowledgement: Exhibit A2108(4) has been extracted from the bundle of evidence  submitted to the HS2 Select Committee by the Inland Waterways Association and published on the Committee’s website.

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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