Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 16

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 16:

May 23  2014

May I first apologise for not posting this blog for day 16, the last day of the Enquiry before the break, sooner.  I did not attend that day and have had to study the recordings which my associates who were there were able to supply me with, and to whom I am most grateful for their assistance in keeping those recordings flowing.

As usual the short descriptions and links are given for those who didn’t catch the tweet on Saturday and I give some commentary below, including an update on the timetable.

First Morning Session


In the first morning session of day 16 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, May 23 2014, the cross examination of Mr John Henkel, acting Director of the WY Combined Authority for transport (formerly Metro) is continued by Dr John Dickinson, of the North West Leeds Transport Forum, who asks questions around the capitalisation costs and risks of NGT. He is followed by Mr Chris Longley of the Federation of Small Businesses who subjects the business case to some analysis, then by Mr Bill McKinnon for the A660 Joint Council who looks at strategic issues and lastly Mr George Geapin, a private objector.

Late Morning Session


In the late morning session of day 16 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, May 23 2014, Neil Cameron QC completes the examination of Mr John Henkel of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for transport (formerly Metro). This session finished at about twenty minutes past midday and the Enquiry was adjourned early since there is now to be a week's break for Bank Holiday and half term and the Inspector felt that it would not be helpful for the Enquiry to call the next witness for one session alone as their evidence is on an entirely different subject.

The evidence explored today covered some very interesting and important issues, although they might not at first glance appear as significant as some of those which have been discussed lately. 

The matter of the capitalisation or as I understand it, the raising of the money to build this scheme, was examined by Dr John Dickinson, for I think, the North West Leeds Transport Forum.  One point elicited that I found quite alarming is that the franchise operator who had won the tender for the system would not be liable for losses if the required money to pay back the finance to build and supply it, but it would be the City of Leeds which would bear the weight of that burden, in other words, the Council Tax payers of Leeds.   Somewhat reminiscent of the socialised debt of the large financial corporations of recent years.

When coupled with the examination of Chris Longley from the Federation of Small Businesses who asked searching questions about how much NGT had examined the £60 million loss making Sheffield Supertram, this makes me very concerned that the Council, Metro (or the now Combined Authority) and NGT are taking a massive gamble on this thing being a success financially, and all that apart from the unavoidable destruction of communities, heritage and environment which it would entail.

A matter came up about dealing with the anti-competitive nature of the scheme, at least believed to be so by some.  If anyone would like to help me with this I would be glad of elucidation on what the Inspector meant about it not being dealt with by the Enquiry.  Obviously it is an issue and the Counsel for First have worked around the matter, but this is also a technical matter of competition law, and I have to declare not to fully grasp it at this stage.

Mr Bill McKinnon’s questioning which followed raised some extraordinary facts which I had no knowledge of.  Although I lived in Leeds 6 for most of the eighties I was entirely unaware of a scheme entitled ‘Electrobus’ which was a trolleybus system.  I can put that down to not being clued in to local political issues at the time, but it was fascinating to hear that the Director of Metro/ WY Combined Authority’s knowledge was scant about the Electrobus, even though he had heard about it.  While it was a scheme abandoned within living memory, it seems to have been reincarnated as the NGT trolleybus.  These things keep getting rejected, but then people keep re-presenting them in slightly different forms so that we have to go through the whole process of rejecting them all over again. 

It reminds me of the Irish referenda on the EU/ treaty, constitution or whatever it ended up being called.  They rejected it, so the politicians wouldn’t let go of it and pushed another referendum only two years or so later.

I recall Cllr Richard Lewis at the Headingley Heart Centre Public Meeting almost a year ago (June 2013) talking about how this had all come a long way since Supertram was first mooted in the early ‘90s.  It must now be pointed out that he made no mention of Electrobus which had been kicked out a couple of years earlier. 

There seems to be a persistent lobby lurking in the shadowy places of Leeds and West Yorkshire trying to get a trolleybus system installed somewhere, ever since Bradford closed its own last trolleybus in 1972.  It was the last and longest running trolleybus in the country, running since 1911.  I can’t decide if it is a bunch of grown up schoolboys who want to play with trainsets on a grand scale or if there are other motivations behind the idea they won’t give up on.  No-one elsewhere in England seems to have any interest in trolleybuses, Liverpool rejected a similar scheme in 1999, yet they keep trying to come back to haunt Leeds, like HR Giger’s Alien in the Ridley Scott movie, returning to stalk Ripley however many times she thinks she has killed it off.

But perhaps this will be the occasion when the people and businesses of Leeds do finally kill this monster that would devour well loved communities and heritage.  The Public Enquiry is bringing a lot of very interesting information out into the public domain, where it should be and making a permanent open record of it with the audio recordings which we have been organising.

One isn’t surprised that Leeds City Council would be unco-operative towards making the hearings available for public access.  They claimed cost was the reason, and yet it has cost us virtually nothing in monetary terms to make and publish them.  The citizenry of Leeds need to be reminded of not only the massive financial risk and social loss which would be entailed but also that this has happened before, repeatedly.  As Mr McKinnon reminded Mr Henkel and the Enquiry, ‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes’.

One fact of history which Mr Henkel seemed not to have learned from was the fact that when trolleybuses were given up by Leeds in 1927 it was largely because people didn’t want to be making interchange connections, such as the contemporary park and ride, but preferred to stay on one vehicle, the motor bus then or their cars now, than to have to change and wait and then most likely have to stand for the length of the journey.

Mr Henkel came back with a response which stimulated some stifled snorts and chortles from the back rows so far as I could tell from the recording when Bill McKinnon asked if he thought people had changed and might now be willing to get out of their cars to go on a trolleybus where they might have to possibly stand for the rest of the journey to town. He said ‘Yes’ but he reply was rather muted, almost choked upon.  To imagine that anyone could expect that answer to be satisfactory for a ‘Quality Bus’ experience is laughable.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing his face.  It was rather a blunt moment.  He passed on the next question to another witness, as to whether any passenger surveys around this had been done, but if he isn’t brandishing a passenger consultation paper demonstrating that passengers are fine with standing then I wonder why not.  To be perpetually vague on subjects where he should be in mastery of the detail is not satisfying.  He may be the Director, but he should have some hands on engagement with such a massive and important project if we were to have any confidence in his proposal. 

I have said that if people and environments and heritage didn’t matter, this might be a good cattle truck.  I think Mr Henkel just confirmed what I suggested.

Mr Henkel reminds me somewhat of Martin Farrington at the beginning of the Enquiry who was always passing on questions to his specialists, and who has no real grasp of important facts, or is obfuscating.  I have been alarmed at how, like President Reagan, he ‘couldn’t recall’ so many details, dates, meetings and so forth that he should have known about.  I trust that the Inspector has noted this.

The next week, after Bank Holiday/ Half Term break, starting Tuesday June 3rd 2014 will be on Heritage matters.  A brief summary of the draft plan for the remainder of the Enquiry follows below.

The Public Enquiry resumes on Tuesday June 3rd at 10 am
in the Regus Suite, fifth floor, no 2 Wellington Place, Leeds 1 (off Wellington Street)

Week 5:  Heritage

Tues 3rd June to Fri 6th June 2014

Week 6:  Transport Matters

Tues 10th June to Fri 13th June 2014

Week 7:  Environmental Matters

Tues 17th June to Fri 20th 2014

Week 8:  Environmental Matters

Tues 24th June to Fri 27th June 2014

Non Sitting Week

30th June to 4th July 2014

Non Sitting Week

7th July to 11th July 2014 

Week 9;  Environmental and Planning Matters

Tues 15th July to Fri 18th July 2014

Week 10:  Heritage Matters

Mon 21st July to Thurs 24th July 2014

Non Sitting

28th July to 29th August 2014

Week 11:  Case for the Objectors

Tues 2nd Sept to Fri 5th Sept 2014

Week 12:  Case for Order Applicant and for the Objectors

Tuesday 9th Sept to Fri 12th Sept 2014

Non Sitting Week

15 Sept to 19 Sept 2014

Week 13:  Case for the Objectors, Residential Associations and Individuals

Tues 23rd Sept to Fri 26th Sept 2014

Week 14:  Case for individual Objectors, A660 Joint Council, Weetwood, West Park, North Hyde Park Residents, Friends of Woodhouse Moor and others.

Tues 30th Sept to Fri 3rd Sept 2014

Week 15: Planning Conditions, Site visits, Closing submissions.

Tues 7th Oct to Thurs 9th Oct 2014

This is only a draft and is subject to alteration.  Check www.persona.uk.com  the Programme Organisers for the latest status.

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