Fess up failure fuss, part 1

On 17th November 2014 Sir David Higgins appeared before the House of Commons Transport Committee to give oral evidence at a session that was billed as an “HS2 update”. During that session he was asked by Committee Chair Mrs Louise Ellman whether he “still” thought that HS2 Ltd hasn’t “always been as clear as [it] ought to have been in setting out the strategic case for HS2”. His reply included the following (see footnote 1):

“I am not sure we were clear enough in the role that the new network provides capacity (sic). It is a bit of a circular discussion because a railway line where trains travel at 220 miles an hour as opposed to 120 miles an hour clearly has nearly twice the capacity because you can have twice as many trains on it.”

You might have thought that this was, indeed, “clearly” the case: it surely makes sense that if you can shift passengers down the same piece of track in half the time, then you can get twice as many of them down that track section in any given time period. Well, if you did think that, then you will have to go to the back of the class with Sir David. According to railways blogger Beleben, Sir David’s claim is “utter nonsense” (see footnote 2).

If capacity is determined as the maximum number of train paths that can be supported each hour, then it is governed solely by the minimum spacing between trains, in seconds, that safety considerations will permit. Since it takes longer to stop a train the faster it is travelling, the minimum safe spacing is, other things being equal, greater for high speed than conventional intercity trains and, accordingly, the capacity for train paths is reduced.

It is ironic, you might think, that in a reply addressing the clarity of HS2 Ltd’s case its Chairman should muddy the waters by advancing a technically flawed argument. Unfortunately, as Beleben comments in his/her blog, “no-one on the transport committee challenged him about it” and “the ‘technical’ railway press has never challenged or debunked the claim”.

Beleben first accused the HS2 Ltd Chairman of “talking nonsense” in a blog that was posted just a few days after Sir David’s appearance in front of the Transport Committee (see footnote 3), so why was the blogger rattling the same cage in a second blog posted some twenty-six months later? The reason, hinted at in a third blog in the sequence (see footnote 4) would appear to be Beleben’s frustration that HS2 Ltd appears to have no intention of putting the record straight. So this misinformation will remain in the public domain – and it was also trotted out by Sir David to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (see footnote 5) and by the, then, Chief Executive of the Company, Simon Kirby, in a trade-press article (see footnote 6) – where it will have the potential to misinform decision makers and be quoted as “evidence” of the need for HS2 by politicians and those who have lobbied for it.

Beleben has not been alone in taking umbrage at this affront to the truth.

On 11th February 2015, Mr John Marriott submitted a freedom of information request for “any documentation or analyis (sic) which supports the statements made by Sir David Higgins” (see footnote 7). On 11th January 2016 – yes it really did take eleven months for HS2 Ltd to reply – Mr Marriott received a response that contains the interesting revelation that Sir David had been provided with a briefing note for his Transport Committee appearance that contains the statement “speed provides capacity” and the explanation “a 200mph train moves double the number of passengers a day than a 100mph train does”. Whilst, as Beleben has demonstrated, the former statement is untrue, there is, possibly, an element of truth in the second statement in that a high speed train will be able to complete more trips per day and, therefore, move more passengers that way, but Sir David’s interpretation of his brief, as he put it to the Committee, is clearly wrong in that a high speed railway will not support “twice as many trains” on the line at the same time.

Mr Marriott followed up with another request (FOI16-1473) seeking the names of the person who had written and authorised the issue of the briefing notes, but this request was turned down: the former was stated to be “not sufficiently senior or public facing in their roles” for their name to be disclosed, and the latter was information not held.

Mr Marriott has had one more try to seek satisfaction (FOI16-1487), but the response that he has received clearly indicates that he has entered a zone of rapidly diminishing returns.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. See Q14 in the transcript Oral Evidence: HS2 update HC 793, House of Commons Transport Committee, Monday 17thNovember 2014.
  2. See the blog HS2 speed and capacity loss, Beleben website, 28thFebruary 2017.
  3. See the blog HS2 chairman: gain public confidence, by talking nonsense, Beleben website, 18thNovember 2014.
  4. See the blog Too much capacity and not enough capacity (at the same time), Beleben website, 29thMarch 2017.
  5. See entry Sir David Higgins under Q251 on page 532 of the volume The Economic Case for HS2 Oral and Written Evidence, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 25thMarch 2015.
  6. See the section Why high? in the article Taking HS2 to completion, Rail Engineer, 29thApril 2016. Simon Kirby is quoted as claiming that at conventional speeds “we’d need a four track railway from Euston to Birmingham, not a two track one, because the speeds are slower and the capacity is less”.
  7. The request has been given the identity FOI15-1459 by HS2 Ltd.

 

Checking the shopping list

A couple of months ago HS2 Ltd staged one of its friendly purchaser/supplier get-together events for potential manufacturers of its fleet of high-speed trains and those rail industry members, and others, who might be interested on the periphery. As one might have expected, the prospect of £billions being cast upon the rail industry’s waters (see footnote 1) was, to thoroughly mix the metaphors, a honey pot that attracted the flies in swarms – the attendance list identifies two hundred and fifty organisations with delegates present.

A few weeks after this monumental shindig was held HS2 Ltd published a Pre-qualification Technical Summary for the HS2 rolling stock (PQTS). This is an outline specification that contains, we are told, “the requirements considered material to bidders”: presumably the intention is that potential bidders will use the document to determine if they will be able to offer equipment that will fit the bill and, accordingly, come to a decision about whether to subject their organisation to the rigours of the pre-qualification process. So, although we can’t expect that all of the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed in this document, it should, at least, provide an indication of the direction in which HS2 Ltd’s corporate thoughts are heading.

As anybody will know who is at all familiar with the soul-bearing exercise that I have been engaged in on this site for six years now, I have a bit of an obsession with the impacts that the noise generated by HS2 trains will have, so I was interested to see what provisions for mitigating this noise at source have been included in the PQTS.

The train operational noise calculations presented in Appendix 5 of the Phase 1 Environmental Statement were made based upon the assumption that trains supplied for the HS2 project, both “captive” and “classic-compatible” designs, will be “specified to be quieter than the relevant current European Union requirements”. The magnitude of this assumed noise reduction is stated to be “approximately 3 dB at 360kph compared to a current European high speed train operating on the new track” (see footnote 2).

I am pleased to confirm that this assumption has been recognised in the PQTS, albeit not yet in strict terms. Potential tenderers are advised that the train pass-by noise limit (the “Contractual Pass-by Limit”), which is yet to be set, will not be greater than “that specified in the NOI TSI (see footnote 3). Further, tenderers are advised of the 3dB reduction that has been assumed for the Environmental Statement, the legal requirement for HS2 Ltd to “take all reasonable steps not to exceed the airborne noise levels predicted in the HS2 Phase One Environmental Statement” and the consequent expectation that HS2 Ltd will “invite Tenderers to propose Contractual Pass-by Limits that are lower than that specified in the NOI TSI”. Also, potential tenderers are given the added incentive of being awarded a reduction in the value assessed for the whole-life cost of their solution for each decibel that the pass-by noise is below the NOI TSI limit (see footnote 4).

So, as with so many other aspects of HS2, what the PQTS is offering us falls somewhat short of a cast-iron guarantee, but we do have an indication of intent to meet the airborne operational noise predictions that are set out in the Environmental Statement (ES).

But the operational airborne noise predictions are not solely dependent upon the magnitude of the total noise radiated by a passing train. This is because points all over the body of the train, from the very bottom where the wheels have contact with the rails to the very top where the pantograph rubs against the power catenary wire, will contribute to this total noise, and the extent that each of those points propagate that noise and contribute to the aggregate noise experienced at any receptor will depend upon the height of the point above track level. This height dependence affects both the propagation over the natural terrain and the efficiency of any artificial noise barriers assumed for the calculations in the ES, be they bunds or fence barriers.

The computer model that was employed to make the ES predictions takes account of this height dependence by approximating the umpteen sources all over the train body to five effective sources at heights above rail head of 0.0, 0.5, 2.0, 4.0 and 5.0 metres (see footnote 5). Equations expressing the relationship of each of these five sources to the speed of the train have been identified in the ES, and these relationships allow the noise levels emanating from each of the five effective sources to be calculated at any speed (see footnote 6).

As long ago as 2011 I was expressing concern about the assumptions that HS2 Ltd was making for the noise generated at the higher levels on the train, resulting from aerodynamic effects (see footnote 7). It is a subject that I have returned to on a number of occasions since, and which I dealt with in considerable detail in a series under the sub-title Impacts of aerodynamic noise on noise mitigation efficiency that I posted towards the end of 2012 (see footnote 8).

On the evidence that I cited in the Impacts of aerodynamic noise on noise mitigation efficiency series, there is fairly general agreement that the contribution made by the pantograph to overall pass-by noise can be significant. In the ES, however, the assumption has been made that pantograph noise at 360kph will be, with the exception of the noise coming from the train power, traction and auxiliary systems, the quietest noise source, and at 12dB below the total noise predicted, will have, in the absence of any noise barriers or bunds, an insignificant impact upon that total noise (see footnote 9). This assumption relies on the belief that a reduction of at least 10dB below the levels of noise generated by “a traditional European HS pantograph” can be achieved if a “more aerodynamic” design is employed, adopting the low-noise pantograph design techniques that have been developed in Japan (see footnote 10).

In spite of the inclusion of a low-noise pantograph in the HS2 rolling stock design specification apparently being essential to realise the predictions made in the ES, particularly where barriers and bunds have been employed for noise mitigation, the PQTS is remarkably reluctant to press home the need. The section in the document covering pantographs (see footnote 11) makes no mention of a low-noise design being required and the section on noise merely tells the potential tenderer that “HS2 Ltd is considering how and whether to specify requirements for high-level noise emanating from [the] roof area of the train, including the pantograph” (see footnote 12).

The published script for the presentation that Tom Williamson, Head of Rolling Stock Engineering at HS2 Ltd, gave to the assembled masses at the launch confirms that he admitted that “aerodynamic noise becomes a real problem above 300km/h and noise from higher up on the train doesn’t tend to be contained by noise barriers” and that he referred to “the low-noise pantograph solution … from Japan”. He also dropped a bit of bombshell regarding the classic-compatible train design – a potential problem that I have not seen referred to before in any HS2 Ltd documentation – that “the constrained gauge of the conventional compatible trains makes straightforward adoption of [the Japanese design] difficult” (see footnote 13).

It strikes me that close scrutiny of how this procurement process develops will be necessary to ensure that HS2 Ltd does not submit those on the route to higher levels of noise pollution than it has so far indicated will be the case.

Footnotes:

  1. Although the surety of receiving a harvest of reward implicit in Ecclesiastes 11:1 can hardly be claimed with certainty for HS2.
  2. See paragraphs 1.2.16 and 1.2.17 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000 Methodology, assumptions and assessment (route-wide): Sound, noise and vibration, Volume 5 Technical Appendices London-West Midlands Environmental Statement, HS2 Ltd/Department for Transport, November 2013.
  3. The “NOI TSI” is the EU noise specification that has superseded the rolling stock TSI that was in force at the time that the Environmental Statement was being written (2008/232/EC). It is set out in the Annex to the document Commission Regulation 1304/2014 of 26thNovember 2014 concerning the technical specification for interoperability relating to the subsystem ‘rolling stock — noise’ amending Decision 2008/232/EC and repealing Decision 2011/229/EU, Official Journal of the European Union, 12th December 2014.
  4. See paragraph 7.18.1 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006, Pre-Qualification Technical Summary, HS2 Ltd, 21stApril 2017.
  5. See paragraph 1.1.27 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  6. See paragraphs 1.1.28 to 1.1.30 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  7. For example, see my blog Going over the top (posted 9 Nov 2011).
  8. The individual blogs in the series are Are you taking this seriously? (posted 27 Nov 2012), What do they know? (posted 1 Dec 2012), It’s there for all to see (posted 5 Dec 2012), Or putting it another way (posted 9 Dec 2012), I can hear you (posted 13 Dec 2012) and Being a bit hopeful? (posted 17 Dec 2012).
  9. See Figure 5 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  10. See paragraph 1.1.40 in Annex D2 to Appendix SV-001-000.
  11. Paragraph 7.5.2 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006.
  12. See paragraph 7.18.1 in document reference HS2-HS2-RR-SPE-00000006.
  13. See page 46 of the presentation script HS2 rolling stock: scope and requirements presentation, HS2 Ltd, 28thMarch 2017.

 

Peering into the laundry basket

In my blog All will be revealed in due course, perhaps (posted 28 Mar 2017) I reported on the oral evidence that David Prout of the Department for Transport (DfT) and Simon Kirby of HS2 Ltd (see footnote 1) had given to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, and the news they had given that HS2 Ltd had been invited by the DfT to review the programme for HS2 Phase 1 and advise if the estimated completion date should be put back. Since no details of the findings of this review had been made public in the period since, I suggested in my blog that someone might want to seek to obtain these details by making a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, and added a postscript subsequent to the blog being posted confirming that such a request had been submitted (see footnote 2).

The person who heeded my clarion call was no other than Dr Paul Thornton, and there could be no one better to press for the release of the information. Dr Thornton is a long-time opponent of the HS2 project, and is very well versed in the ins and outs of FoI requests (see footnote 3).

He shot to fame in 2013 when the Information Commissioner found in his favour over the refusal by the Cabinet Office to disclose HS2 Project Assessment Reports prepared by the Major Projects Authority that had rated the HS2 project as having an “amber red” risk assessment. The subsequent overruling of the Information Commissioner’s decision to require publication by the then Transport Secretary, employing a rare emergency veto power, led to Dr Thornton instigating judicial review proceedings which the Information Commissioner joined once underway (see footnote 4).

In June 2015, following a UK Supreme Court majority ruling that the use of this veto in another case had been inappropriate, chiefly on the grounds that the veto cannot be used in an environmental information case and that “a decision of a judicial body should be final and binding and should not be capable of being overturned by a member of the executive” (see footnote 5), the Government announced that it was “withdrawing from the judicial review proceedings” and released the “secret” MPA project assessment review reports from 2011 and 2012, which exposed public pronouncements made at the time as disingenuous (see footnote 6).

The initial response that Dr Thornton has received to his FoI request for the findings of the HS2 project timescale review is very reminiscent of the early stage of his quest to get the MPA project assessment reviews made public. Despite him specifying that the request should be treated “under the provisions of the Environmental Information Regulations” the DfT has concluded that the “requested information relates to planning and governance and does not fall within the definition of environmental information” and has decided to “process [the] information under the FOI Act”. Access to the requested information has been refused, as permitted by the FoI Act, on the grounds that “disclosure would (or would be likely to) inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views or otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs {sections 36(2)(b)(ii) and (c)}”. The DfT reply acknowledges that the application of Section 36 of the FoI Act is subject to a public interest test, but concludes that the public interest considerations do not outweigh the arguments for not releasing the information.

Dr Thornton has requested an internal review of the DfT’s decision, which is the next step in the formal process (see footnote 7). In his request he contests the assertion that the Environmental Information Regulations are not applicable, and points out that the reasons for refusing access to information permitted by Section 36 of the FoI Act are not provided by the EIRs. Notwithstanding, Dr Thornton also disputes that the prejudice test of Section 36 can properly be engaged in this case.

It is interesting to speculate, on the basis of the decision reached by the Information Commissioner in the earlier case, what his successor might make of this latest refusal to disclose HS2 project information. In his Decision Notice for that case, the Commissioner found that the information being requested was “environmental”, not by being environmental data of itself but in view of the impact that the HS2 project would have on the environment (see footnote 8). Whilst the determination of the case under the provisions of the EIRs effectively removed the Section 36 exception, it introduced a new one excepting the disclosure of communications within and between government departments (“internal communications”). The Commissioner found that this exception, provided by EIR regulation 12(4)(e), was engaged in respect of the disclosure of the MPA project assessment reviews (see footnotes 9 and 10).

Overall though, it was the Information Commissioner’s view that, whether the FoI or the EIR exceptions was invoked, “the public interest in maintaining the exception does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure” (see footnote 11). Whilst we should recognise that the granting of Royal Assent for the HS2 project might have some influence on any reassessment of the public interest weight of information about the project, the precedent set by the Information Commissioner in June 2013 provides a high level of confidence that, should Dr Thornton take this current request to the Commissioner, he would be likely to win.

The idiomatic expression that warns about the folly of washing dirty linen in public seems to be advice that is well heeded in government circles. The risk that public access to government’s deliberations might discourage officials from “speaking truth to power” is a convenient excuse for keeping the lid of the laundry basket firmly shut, and the soiled linen safe from prying eyes. However, I am far from convinced that the average battle-scarred civil servant is a fragile plant that has to be tenderly nurtured and protected from the rough winds that shake its “darling buds” (see footnote 12).

The French language alternative expression pas devant les domestiques probably strikes closer to home in this respect. In our subservient position, we – the plebeians – should expect only to be told what is good for us to hear, and we should not be encouraged, in any way, to seek to question those who presume to govern us. In truth, of course, it is they who are our servants, and, other than in very exceptional circumstances, the excuse that disclosure “would prejudice the free and frank exchange of views” between the Executive and its advisors smacks far too much of the picture of the working of government painted by Yes Minister.

Footnotes:

  1. Both of whom have since announced their departures from their posts.
  2. The request has been given the identity FOI17-1740 by HS2 Ltd.
  3. For example, at the time that this blog was first posted Paul’s page on the What Do They Know website listed 67 requests in his name.
  4. See the article Minister’s bid to keep HS2 report secret ‘is unlawful’: Transport secretary used wartime gagging order to stop document being released, Ray Massey, Mail Online, 9th April 2014.
  5. See paragraph 115 of the judgment R (on the application of Evans) and another (Respondents) v Attorney General (Appellant), The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 26th March 2015.
  6. See the webpage HS2: Major Projects Authority project assessment review reports, Cabinet Office, Department for Transport, High Speed Two (HS2) Limited and Infrastructure and Projects Authority, 25thJune 2015 (date of first publication).
  7. Paul’s appeal for an internal review is included in the correspondence reproduced on the webpage devoted to his FoI request on the What Do They Know website.
  8. See paragraph 20 in the document Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) Decision notice Reference FER0467548, Information Commissioner’s Office, 6th June 2013.
  9. See paragraph 23 in Decision notice Reference FER0467548.
  10. Very soon after Decision notice Reference FER0467548 was published, HS2 Ltd minutes were discovered that confirmed that the report had been provided to HS2 Ltd. It could therefore no longer be claimed to be an internal document; HS2 Ltd being a separate public body. In the light of that further evidence, in the pre-tribunal exchange of documents in the appeal of the Information Commissioner’s decision the Commissioner proactively conceded that Section 12(4)(e) should not have been engaged at all.
  11. See paragraph 48 in Decision notice Reference FER0467548.
  12. Both I in All will be revealed in due course, perhaps and Dr Thornton in his internal review request for FOI17-1740 refer to Philip Rutnam’s response to the Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that the DfT “will need to see what the report is first” before deciding on whether it would be published. I feel that those few words epitomize the Executive’s approach to open government, and shine a light on the real reason why publication has been withheld.

Acknowledgement: I am very grateful to Dr Paul Thornton for checking the factual content of this blog, and for his helpful suggestions for improvements.

 

Branching out

I was very pleased that Cubbington Parish Council recently agreed to support the Charter for Trees, Woods and People (the “Tree Charter”), due to be launched this coming November, by becoming a Charter Branch. This move was taken in response to a circular received from the National Association for Local Councils (NALC), the national membership body for parish and town councils, which is one of a large number of partner organisations involved in the proposed launch, under the chairmanship of the Woodland Trust (see footnote 1).

Traditionally, a charter is a document that sets out rights for a group of people, and the most well-known such document in British history is surely the Magna Carta, which required the monarch to respect the rights of the clergy and barons. The Tree Charter will extend that principle to the relationship between trees and people, and will “guide policy and practice in the UK, enabling a future in which trees and people stand stronger together” (see footnote 2).

The date chosen for the launch of the Tree Charter is 6th November 2017; a date that is significant in being the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest (see footnote 3). The detailed articles of the charter are currently being written by experts from the partner organisations, with the assistance of input from focus group consultations.

With this timescale in mind, you may regard it as premature for any local council to be considering becoming a Charter Branch and, thereby, supporting a document that hasn’t even been written yet. Perhaps, but local councils may be reasonably assured of what they are putting their name to, since the publishing in March this year of The Tree Charter Principles, which sets out the ten tenets that will underpin the Charter.

For Cubbington, a community that has been fighting the proposed destruction of ancient woodland and a certain veteran tree for seven years, the decision to associate the Parish Council with the Charter was, to quote one Cubbington parish councillor, “a no-brainer”. The assurance given by NALC that signing up as a Charter Branch was “completely free and will in no way effect the autonomy of your local council” appeared to clinch it with the Council.

In return for making this small commitment, local councils who become a Charter Branch are promised:

  • that the Charter will serve as a resource that local councils can use in support of their efforts to look after trees in their area
  • free promotional material and newsletters
  • that help or advice will be on hand to help local councils with projects and activities around trees, and that some (limited) grant funds will be available
  • that Charter Branches will have the chance to contribute their voices to the ongoing development of the Tree Charter

Charter Branch local councils who wish to will be given the opportunity to collect signatures in support of the Tree Charter from their local residents: a book in which to collect these signatures will be provided, and for every signature collected a tree will be planted by the Woodland Trust.

More details for local councils considering becoming Charter Branches may be found in a blog written by Joseph Palasz, Tree Charter Communications Officer at the National Association of Local Councils.

Why not ask your own local council if they have registered as a Charter Branch? If the answer is no, then ask why not?

Footnotes:

  1. The Charter website displays the logos of sixty-eight partner organisations, although elsewhere on the website we are told that “more than70 organisations” are involved.
  2. The quote is taken from the treecharter.uk webpage Tree Charter FAQs.
  3. The Charter of the Forest, or Carta de Foresta, was a complementary charter to the Magna Carta that provided a right of common access to the royal forests, including for foraging and grazing livestock.

For a limited time only

Back in 2011 I reported (A walk in the woods, posted 3 Apr 2011) on the first in a series of guided spring walks around South Cubbington Wood organised by the Cubbington Action Group against HS2 (CAG). Every year since a similar series of walks has been held to give those interested the opportunity to see the spring flowers in the wood and the veteran pear tree in blossom; so that means, I calculate, that this year is the seventh series.

The format hasn’t really changed over the seven series. CAG provides at least two guides, who loiter outside the King’s Head pub in Cubbington at the appointed hour, rain or shine. Whatever the number of takers – and we have seen as few as one and as many as fifty – the walk goes ahead.

More often than not, the guides have been CAG stalwart, Rosemary, and me, and we have developed a good cop/bad cop double act for the briefings delivered to the participants at intervals during the walk; Rosemary describing all of the natural wonders that can be seen now, and me foreshadowing the Armageddon that will come with HS2. I must admit that, in the early days, the burning anger that I feel when describing the impacts that HS2 will have on the wood and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it, caused me to treat every occasion to address the walkers as an opportunity to denounce HS2 Ltd and its project. Now, in these post Royal Assent times, with swords sheathed and co-operation rather than confrontation being the watchword, I have learnt to be more relaxed. I try to stick to presenting the facts and allow my audience to ask the inevitable “why?” questions that come, and leave them to draw their own conclusions about whether things should be different.

With so many walks over the seven years, I do find myself trotting out the same old phrases, but it is not unusual for questions and comments from those listening to take proceedings up new lines of discussion to keep matters fresh. As some walkers have come back for more than one walk, I have also tried to introduce new topics into my repertoire from time to time.

Inevitably, much of the information that I recite when guiding walks has been gleaned from the research that I have undertaken for my blogs, and new topics suggest themselves by the same route. So, for example, this year I have added talking about biodiversity offsetting to my standard fayre, following on from my recent blog series on this topic (see footnote 1).

This year the billing for the walks included the warning “construction is due to begin later this year”, emphasising that this year’s walks were likely to be the last chance to see the wood and tree in their spring best. This was based upon the timeplan in the Environmental Statement, which shows the construction of the Cubbington cutting scheduled to start in this current quarter, but then followed by nine quarters of inactivity leading to three quarters of construction spanning 2019 and 2020 (see footnote 2).

I attended the meeting held at the end of March that Joe Rukin refers to in a recent blog on the Stop HS2 website and feel obliged to comment that the explanation given by HS2 Ltd at that meeting that the first phase of construction would be enabling works is consistent with the two-phased approach shown in the timeplan for the Cubbington cutting. However, I also feel that Joe makes a convincing case that HS2 Ltd is encountering slippage in the early programme, at least: slippage that the organisation is not prepared to acknowledge, perhaps in the hope that it will be able to make up lost ground as the programme rolls out. Notwithstanding, it appears to me that we can expect the wood to be substantially untouched by spring 2018, and it may even survive to spring 2019 if the programme is still encountering delays by then. What we don’t know, of course, is whether we will be able to access the wood to see the spring flowers in 2018 and 2019, because I think that we can expect that HS2 Ltd will have exercised its compulsory purchase powers on the land that it needs for construction well before spring 2018.

For those of you who have an interest in comparing the progress of the seasons, year by year, I think that it is fair to classify the spring of 2017 as a bumper one for both wood anemones and bluebells.

The anemones were already present in abundance at the time of our first walk on 27th March, but the flowers were closed up due to overcast conditions. On 1st April we were treated, in bright sunshine, to probably the best display that I have seen in recent years, with the flowers fully open, and the same was true for our third walk held on 9th April. On 17th April there were still plenty of wood anemone flowers, but they were again closed due to a lack of sunshine, but this marked the start of the inevitable decline, and by our last walk on 6th May there was just the odd flower remaining.

Image: Frances Wilmot

The first bluebell blooms were in evidence on our 9th April walk, and numbers built up during April, but we didn’t really see peak quantities until our last walk on 6th May.

Image: Frances Wilmot

The veteran pear tree appeared to pass through its stages of development very rapidly this year. When we visited it on 1st April, the blossom was just beginning to break, and was well in evidence, but not at its peak, a week later (9th April). By our next visit, on 17th April, the tree was well into leaf, hiding what blossom remained.

Footnotes:

  1. The blogs in the series that specially cover offsetting are Compensation culture, part 6 (posted 8 Mar 2017), Compensation culture, part 7 (posted 12 Mar 2017) and Compensation culture, part 8 (posted 16 Mar 2017).
  2. See Figure 5 in the publication London-West Midlands Environmental Statement Volume 2: Community Forum Area Report, CFA17 Offchurch and Cubbington, HS2 Ltd, November 2013.

 

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.

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 …)

Footnotes:

  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.