Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 13

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 13

May 20  2014

Today saw Mr Jason Smith finishing his stint as a witness for the Applicant for the Transport Works Order, NGT.  Cross examination began with Mr Bill McKinnon for Friends of Woodhouse Moor and North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, who was followed by Gregory Jones QC for the remainder of the morning and the early part of the afternoon.  After Mr Jones the Inspector asked Mr Smith some questions and the last session was spent with Neil Cameron QC giving the final examination for the Applicant.

Jones really hit home today and I have been fascinated listening back to his cross examination on behalf of the Leeds College of Art.   This begins a short way into the second of the audios listed below, and if you are limited for listening time and need to cherry pick, the middle hour of that one is pure gold.

My commentary on today’s proceedings follows these links to audios of all today’s sessions.

In the first morning session of day 13 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, May 20 2014, Mr Bill McKinnon of Friends of Woodhouse Moor and North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association continues his cross examination of Highways Engineer Mr Jason Smith on important details of the proposed NGT route on issues of shared space and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Standard 2013 relevant to the proposed NGT trolleybus scheme.

In the late morning session of day 13 of the Leeds trolleybus Public Enquiry, May 20 2014, Bill McKinnon of Friends of Woodhouse Moor and North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association cross examines Jason Smith, Highways Engineer on shared space and future proofing of the proposed system.

In the early afternoon session of day 13 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, May 20 2014, Gregory Jones QC for the Leeds College of Art continues his cross examination of Jason Smith, Highways Engineer with regard to, among other concerns, factors of safety, capacity and flow speed which would affect the College and the roads approaching it in the vicinity including Woodhouse Lane and Blenheim Walk.

As those who read my blog yesterday will know I was critical of Jason Smith’s long drawn out answers.  Today Gregory Jones brought him to heel with his cross examination on behalf of Leeds College of Art.

It is most instructive to watch a really good cross examination.  To hear him pinning his quarry into corner and getting him to admit that the proposed scheme was not one that was good for the College despite the endless prevarications and evasions was most satisfying.  It was quite staggering really to hear how the College had received no consultation from NGT before the original compulsory purchase order or the revised land take plan that was substituted after the formal objection was made. 

At one point Mr Jones said that it was quite clear that Mr Smith was equivocating and attempting not to answer the question

It is always interesting to notice when the Inspector asks a witness a question, especially when it is to ask the witness to answer the question that they have been trying to evade for the last few minutes while their gaze darts about, at least metaphorically, as they look for a way out of their predicament.  

'So, er.. what we did was....'  'Please answer the question Mr Smith, 'Did you or did you not engage in consultation with the College of Art on the design, 'Yes' or 'No'?' 

Eventually Mr Smith passed the buck back to Dave Haskins, NGT Project Director, about what consultations had or had not taken place.  Mr Smith appeared to be under the impression that they had, but could not give dates and so had to refer to his superior.  Mr Jones said that he had quite clear instructions from his client on this matter that there had been no design consultation before January this year.

Jason Smith came out of this very badly so far as I could tell as not only Mr Jones but the Inspector too had to press him hard to give a straight answer to all of this.

Following the mid afternoon break the examination continued around traffic issues on Blenheim Walk, the road in front of the College, and flow around the block between here and Woodhouse Lane.  The astonishing fact emerged that in this very complex zone, which includes a ‘pedestrian dominated’ area, no safety, capacity or flow assessments for the new road layouts and introduced trolleybuses had taken place. 

The day was filled with these kind of facts being extracted from the NGT witness and I was pleased to see that Mr Jones was firm in preventing the answers from spinning out into the lengthy digressions we have seen in previous days.  

I was however concerned at what appeared to me to be a deliberate obfuscation that was made after Gregory Jones had completed his examination and during the Inspector’s questions which followed.  The subject of the corner of Victoria Road corner which is proposed to be demolished and replaced with a larger road junction was raised by the Inspector, who stated that he was concerned about the amount of demolition proposed.  This is the small row of low rent business premises and the old petrol station adjacent which is also a business on Headingley Lane.  But there is also a fine Victorian red brick semi-detached villa behind these, facing out South onto Victoria Road, I believe it is no.2 Victoria Road, which they purpose to destroy along with the rest.

No mention was made of this building, which the Inspector may not have seen when he cycled along the route as part of his own evidence gathering, as it is not on Headingley Lane itself.  The three buildings were referred to by Mr Smith as ‘one property’, taking advantage of the fact that the three buildings, and their three plots of land have been acquired by the Council/Metro and so are held by one freeholder.  However I would suggest that it is misleading to refer to these as ‘one property’.

Mr Smith’s evidence giving has seemed to rely heavily on people not noticing that he can be economical with the truth on occasion.  This last was to me a blatant attempt to hide the fact that a fine Victorian building in both good repair and use would be lost forever, a fact that the Inspector should know.  It is unfortunate that the structure of the proceedings allows little opportunity to intervene on a point of order so as to correct or clarify a statement such as this, and the other day the Inspector took a member of the public to task for ‘shouting out’ as he put it.

I trust that an opportunity will present itself to introduce this fact into the information revealed as the various other cross examinations go forward, but it is most regrettable that the Inspector should have had the misleading idea infiltrated into his mind that there is only ‘one property’.  I think we know that a property is a building and that separate buildings on separate plots should be clearly distinguished.

This was immediately noticed and discussed by several objectors in the following break.

The objectors have had a fair number of what seemed to us good days, and a few where less obvious progress was made, but today was one of those days when it really felt that NGT had been exposed as not responsibly engaging with those people it would affect most, and shilly shallying when their failures to do their proper groundwork were in danger of being brought to light.

In the first couple of weeks the objectors joked that we would welcome the last day of the Enquiry when all the buck passed questions would be answered by the final witness.  But now we have back passing of the buck as Mr Jones said at one point.

I am pleased to see that the Inspector does appear to have picked up on Mr Smith and his evasive ways in answering questions.  And we have to trust that he will give this kind of less tangible evidence weight in his deliberations.

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