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HS2 noise barriers worry the Chilterns

High Speed Rail

23 March 2020

the Chilterns Conservation Board wants HS2 Ltd to design bespoke noise barriers and fencing for use in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Large parts of the London to West Midlands high-speed line  will be built in tunnel but passengers may also find views of the countryside on surface sections obscured by noise barriers. 

HS2 Ltd has just consulted on three standardised elements of the design – bridge and viaduct parapets; bridge and viaduct pier (the support structures); and noise barriers. The company says all will be made of concrete in order to last 120 years. Noise barriers will be of varying height, including in excess of three metres above the railway track in places.

Responding to the consultation, the Chilterns Conservation Board says standardised designs of noise barrier and fencing will be unacceptable through the AONB and could also be unlawful. 

“We are concerned that elements like noise barriers will be highly visible and create visual clutter over the length of the railway,” it says. “A rash of standard fencing and noise barriers could undermine efforts to design the main structures in a sympathetic manner to their rural location.”

The board says taking a standard approach to noise barriers and fencing in the Chilterns “could leave HS2 open to challenge about whether it has demonstrated the statutory duty of regard to the AONB enshrined in Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 Section 85”. 

Section 85 of the Act says that “in exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in an area of outstanding natural beauty”, public bodies must “have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the area”.

This issue also arose with Network Rail’s Great Western electrification programme, which passes through the Chilterns and North Wessex Downs AONBs between Reading and Didcot. Critics said Network Rail ignored the legislation by installing standard masts and booms, which are widely regarded as ugly, through the AONBs (LTT 05 Feb 16). A legal action was threatened but Network Rail eventually settled the dispute by paying the AONBs £3.75m for environmental projects, including £750,000 to plant trees to hide the railway (LTT 02 Aug 19).    

In the case of HS2, the Chilterns Conservation Board says noise barriers in the AONB will need to be of bespoke “design, height, colour and materials ... to integrate with its particular context.”

The conservation board’s HS2 Detailed Design Principles document  published in 2018 recommended the use of timber-clad noise barriers on a steel or timber structure. 

On fencing, the board has told HS2 Ltd: “We support the approach of having no fencing if the noise barrier can also fulfil the security function. Where  [fencing is] essential, ensure it [should be] of a minimum height, simple design (e.g. mesh not palisade), locally appropriate colour for the landscape, and low visibility. Where possible screen fencing with native hedges.”

HS2 Ltd says fencing may not be necessary where noise barriers are installed, though fencing may prevent the noise barriers being covered in graffiti. 

Graffiti is a common problem on noise barriers in parts of mainland Europe such as Italy, where their use is more commonplace. 

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