HS2 - Amersham Vent Shaft
Community Engagement Meeting

Drake Hall, Amersham
6.30pm 14 June 2018


Caroline Jones, Mayor of Amersham, on behalf of Amersham Town Council, hosted a community engagement meeting with presentations from David McCann, Senior Project Manager, Chiltern Tunnels, for HS2, and from David Whiteford of Align, one of the three companies employed by HS2 Ltd to deliver the project. 

David Orr-Ewing, the Community Engagement Officer for Align, was also in attendance.   A lady from Fusion took notes, in particular of the questions raised by the community, with the aim of providing feedback at future community engagement events.

Caroline stressed that the emphasis of the meeting was chiefly based on fact finding, both for members of the public and for the companies engaged by HS2 Ltd, with the purpose of mitigating damage as far as possible.

Overview of the evening

David McCann’s presentation provided a resumé of timescales for the project in this area, which involves 5 vent shafts between the Southern portal at the M25 and the Northern portal near South Heath.   David is responsible for the project from our C1 area (Colne Valley and The Chilterns) all the way up to Warwickshire/Staffordshire.  He explained there is a 16 month process to prepare and deliver the concept design to HS2 Ltd, due by 28 February 2019.  There is a 3 month window for the “Notice to Proceed” starting in March 2019.   More detail of his presentation are provided below (Digging Down into the Detail..)

David Whiteford provided details of the organisations, Align and Fusion,  involved in designing and constructing HS2 in the South, Central and Northern sections.  Align JV is a partnership of Bouygues Travaux Publics, VolkerFitzpatrick and Sir Robert McAlpine, a partnership experienced in delivering transport infrastructure projects.    Fusion JV is a partnership of BAM Richies, Morgan Sindall and Ferrovial  who, either  jointly and/or severally, have been  involved in constructing civil engineering and high speed rail projects in the UK and Holland, as well as Crossrail, Heathrow Terminal 2 and the Spanish High Speed rail.   Align and Fusion are responsible for the enabling works for the project with its 5 vent shafts and 6 mile section of twin bore tunnels. Amersham is No.3 of the shafts.    The vent shaft actually consists of far greater below ground construction, with only a small building, known as the Head House, sitting above ground.  The design of the head house is due to be delivered after consultation between May 2019 and January 2020.  The below-ground vent shaft construction is due to be carried out between March 2020 and September 2022, with the head house construction due between April and October 2022.  (More details of this presentation are provided below (Digging Down into the Detail..)

Following the two presentations, the floor was open to questions from the public, and both presenters did their best to answer these in as much detail as they could, but it soon became evident that they were still awaiting feedback from the engineers “on the ground” who are still carrying out geological and facilities surveys, in addition to having yet to meet with Bucks County Council later this year, to formulate their transport strategy. 

To be fair to HS2 Ltd, they had originally intended to hold further community engagement events in the Autumn, when they may have been in possession of more detailed information to respond to some of the questions from the floor.  However, the HS2 Amersham Action Group (HS2AAG) had expressly requested today’s Community Engagement event to be exclusive to Amersham, as the previous event covered the wider scope of the tunnel and its portals, as well as the Wendover viaduct, but omitted any detail about Amersham and the concerns of the residents who would be affected by the traffic movements, not only for the Amersham vent shaft but also for the other vent shaft sites in the tunnelled section.   

The question and answer section highlighted to the representatives of HS2 Ltd just how anxious the local community are about the traffic plans, particularly at the busy and sensitive junction of the A404 with the A413, where both the Chilterns Crematorium and Amersham Hospital are situated within a few hundred yards of the construction site for the proposed Vent Shaft.  And how right the public are to be anxious, since Align’s main map of the Amersham Vent Shaft site showed a hypothetical route for disposal of topsoil from the construction site to a bund on the opposite side of the A404, meaning there would be HGVs transversing the A404 from Whielden Street into a field next door to the entrance to the Chilterns Crematorium.  Not only would this be madness from a logistical viewpoint, when there other nearer fields, their map appeared to show HGVs would be able to cross from Whielden Street over the A404 to the storage bund and back again, currently a forbidden right turn! 

Although the tone of the evening was on the whole serious, there was uproarious laughter when David McCann gave a wry response to one of the questions about HS2 Ltd being tasked to return the roads to their original state when work has been finalised.  He thought HS2 Ltd might need to negotiate with BCC about getting the roads into a fit state for use by HS2 before the work starts!!!

Digging down into the detail

David McCann explained the Amersham vent shaft is situated in what HS2 Ltd have designated as Area C1 – Central Chilterns and Colne Valley.  There is a 16 month process for the contractors to prepare the concept design and deliver this at the right price.   The contractors are tasked to provide plans for moving utilities and protect wildlife all the way up the line to South Warwickshire.  David explained that further geological surveys had been requested at various points along the route, as the nature of chalk had presented further challenges and therefore, Align should be carrying out enabling works at the Amersham Vent Shaft site for 4-5 months.  He expected engineers to be at the site in September 2018 and was somewhat surprised when Chris Wilson of HS2AAG told him they are already working there, and took on board that Chris noted whilst the work is hardly “under cover”, the contractors are certainly not advertising their identity loud and clear, as the only sign was a small A4 black and white laminated sheet attached to their fenced equipment store in a field laid back from Whielden Street.  More about this in Q & As further on in this article.

David Whiteford of Align presented slides depicting the possible size of the eventual “head house” over the vent shaft and explained that the largest part of the vent shaft is actually below ground, which will entail removal of substantial amounts of topsoil.  The finished size of an average head house could be, for example. 30m x 52m.  This soil would be moved by HGVs which led to a great many questions from the floor later.

He went on to show slides of the proposed tunnel boring machine (the TBM).  Due to the nature of working in chalk, the most advanced design of Variable Density TBM would be required, as this presents local groundwater being drawn into the tunnel.  It takes 12 months to build the machines and 5 months to deliver to site, and the purchase order needs to be signed off by July 2018.
There would be a need to create a “bell mouth” which simply means a wider entrance to the vent shaft construction sites.  Fusion still need to engage with local authorities on the effects of this on the traffic plan.

Questions from the floor

Q            Chris Wilson of HS2AAG pointed out that the works already underway at the Whielden Street vent shaft site, whilst being signposted with “Works Traffic” signage, had not been assessed for traffic or pedestrian safety.  Driving past the site twice in recent days, they encountered a pedestrian walking in the road, as the footpath appeared to be temporarily closed whilst trees were being felled, and there was no coned off footpath created for pedestrians.  There were no SLOW signs, bearing in mind the speed limit only changes from 50mph to 30mph after traffic enters the bend at the South end of Whielden Street. 
A             David McCann took on board the information and said this matter would be investigated further, although a full traffic management plan was yet to be agreed with BCC.

Ground Investigations, opposite
the Vent Shaft

Q            The number of HGV movements has been quoted as 190 per day.  This led to several questions from the floor and Lynn Wilson of HS2AAG queried whether this was 190 in each direction.  There was also a question as to whether these HGV movements would be per 24 hour day, 8 hour day or other?
A             David Whiteford confirmed was 190 each way!  He explained the contractors liaise with the local emergency services about the effects on traffic for the main hospital routes.  Bucks County Council (BCC) will be engaged regarding a strategic plan locally.   Align responded that the length of the working day will be subject to engagement with BCC.
Q            There was another question as to how traffic gridlock will be avoided in areas such as Gore Hill, where HGVs will be slow to climb.
A             There could be a slowing down at peak periods but this should not be day in/day out over the whole construction period.

Q            Chiltern District Cllr Nigel Shepherd (also HS2AAG) asked about community engagement on design of vent shaft head house and he was concerned about drainage of excess water from the vent shaft construction site.
A             Chilterns AONB, BCC, Chiltern District Council (CDC) and Amersham Town Council (ATC) would all be engaged in the details of the design.  Align’s preference for any drainage pipes, if at all required, would be out along the A413
Q            George Allison (HS2AAG and The Amersham Society) raised a query whether the community would be able to request a footbridge to connect the footpaths either side of the A413 on the Western half of the Amersham Bypass, where walkers currently are at risk, as this was a derestricted speed limit section of the bypass with limited visibility and highly dangerous for walkers.
A             David McCann explained HS2 Ltd are not responsible for this as it is a current issue and not one caused by the construction of HS2, but he will take this on board for community engagement talks.
Q            The plans produced by HS2 Ltd appear to show a “take” of a shaded area in front of Amersham Hospital currently used for public metered parking.  Clarification was sought as this would put pressure on local parking amenities for residents which are limited currently as it is.
A             The shaded area is only required for a sewer and there is to be no land grab above ground in front of the hospital.
Q            The proposal for HGVs to cross the A404 with topsoil to the proposed bund in a field next to the Crematorium approach contradicts current traffic laws, where there is “No Right Turn” signage currently, due to the dangers of oncoming traffic. 
A             Although the duration of the topsoil removal will be over a short period, Align agreed this plan needs more development, and they are still on target to present the traffic management plan to BCC by July 2018.
Q            George Allison asked about the size of the proposed workforce and how they would travel to and from site. 
A             David Whiteford calculates this to be under 100, working one shift mainly, but could be over two shifts.  He thinks they would have a shuttle bus to and from Amersham Underground Station.
Q            Amersham Hospital staff expressed concern about difficulties for consultants travelling to and from clinics held at the hospital.  Also the managers of Amersham Hospital Nursery were concerned about noise and traffic affecting them as they are close to the site. 
A             David of Align didn’t know the answer but will ask for the Nursery to be included in the consultation. 
Q            There was a question about whether noise will be heard from the vent shaft. 
A             The requirement is for any noise (mainly from cooling fans) to be no noisier than current background noise, as they have Attenuators, to “attenuate” running noise.  The train itself should not be heard as it runs too deep below ground.  David McCann said the tender for the fan system is out to contract, but he will ask the Railway Systems noise team to attend the next community engagement event.  
Q            Charles Howlett, Superintendent and Registrar at the Chilterns Crematorium, said this was the busiest crematorium in the UK in 2017, with well in excess of 3,000 funerals (in excess of 3,500 but my notes are not very legible here).  There is a new crematorium under construction in the Aylesbury area, but he has not felt reassured that the thousands of mourners travelling to the Chilterns Crematorium have been taken into account as, to date, nobody from HS2 Ltd had consulted him about anything. 
A             The Mayor, Caroline Jones, reassured Charles that she is also very concerned about this and will be ensuring that Charles will be consulted.  David Orr-Ewing asked for Mr Howlett to provide his contact details at the end of the evening.
Q            There was a question about HS2 Ltd restoring roads to their original status.
A             Bottom House Farm Lane, for example, will be have to be repaired and widened for site traffic, but David McCann felt most local residents would not wish road surfaces to be returned to their original state, as road surfaces in The Chilterns are currently so dire.  HS2 will quote to return the roads to a good state.
Q            Kevin Sowden (HS2AAG) asked if HS2 Ltd would make all the material presented at tonight’s event to be made available online.
A             Caroline Jones with assistance from Zoe Richardson of ATC will liaise with HS2 Ltd about this.
Q            One question from the floor was whether local small business would be able to benefit in any way from the construction in the area, by site workers using cafes and shops locally.
A             David McCann said, as a rule, construction companies are encouraged to provide food on site as it has proved generally unsuccessful when site workers try to use local businesses.  He would liaise with the local authorities at the engagement stage to ask whether local SMEs could be asked to tender for food service.

The meeting closed at 8.30pm. 

The next public meeting will be in September 2018.  Details to follow.

Penny Wilson

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