Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 4
May 2 2014
Friday May 2 2014 was the last day of the first week of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry and the witness in the hot seat was Dave Haskins, Project Director for NGT.
The morning was spent with his own statement, followed by a cross examination from Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant (NGT).
The cross examination from Objectors began after lunch with Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire.
A major part of Mr Jones cross examination is focussing on the relation to the Supertram project which was cancelled some years ago. My own memory of this is a bit hazy, so it is extremely helpful for me, and doubtless many of those following this enquiry, to have some very detailed examination of it. (I used to watch Look North in those days, and I really don’t recall much coverage if any of that very important matter other than someone occasionally sounding excited about it.)
A major fact which emerged was that the costs of Supertram were underpredicted by a massive 40% in the opinion of the then Secretary of State. However Mr Haskins would not agree, even after being repeatedly asked the same question, that extreme caution had to be exercised in managing the predicted costs of such an infrastructure project and claimed that he believed that he had effectively done so. He referred to a letter which his team had apparently written to the then Secretary of State in November 2005 contesting the suggestion that the costs had been underpredicted. This assessment of underprediction was based on the bids that were made for the project, which were in the region of almost 40% higher than the cost claims made by the then promoters. The letter in response to the Secretary of State has not been included in the evidence as yet, and will be produced later, probably when the questioning resumes on Wednesday 7th May. There does not appear to have been a reply from the Secretary of State to Metro at the time.
This was quite a complex cross examination to follow and I was really glad of being able to listen back to my audio recording to be able to properly understand it in order to write this blog. (It can be found from about five minutes onwards on the audio from the afternoon session linked above.)
Two matters from this immediately come to mind. Firstly the obvious one that while Mr Haskins does at least appear to have some knowledge of the Supertram, unlike his boss Mr Farrington who had made no review of it, he seems complacently overconfident that he can bring this £250 million pound infrastructure project in on budget, and will not make a concession to humility and acknowledge that extreme caution must be applied on budgets of such an immense size. (I’m looking into when this figure dates from, as it may be some years old.)
The second is that this is a debate which it seems Leeds City Council and Metro would rather was not made in public, since they have refused to put in place any audio or video recording or streaming facilities, despite that request being made by Cllr John Illingworth (Lab, Kirkstall), amongst others.
The BBC too have almost entirely ignored the Leeds Public Enquiry into the Transport and Works Act Order for the NGT Trolleybus. Clearly the tragic incident which occurred at a Leeds College at the beginning of the week has had a lot to do with this. While that is a major occurrence for the City, the trolleybus scheme is the largest potential infrastructure project since the late sixties and would have an immense impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
One can’t help being reminded of that assistant in the Labour Party who suggested in an email on September 11, 2001, that it might be a good day to bury some bad news.
Even the Yorkshire Evening Post, which has given more coverage to this than the BBC, has not to our knowledge had a reporter down to the Enquiry.
When I began making recording of the Public Enquiry it was just as a kind of personal project, but it is now emerging as an important document which is in the public domain. Council members may well have their own stealth recording going on as I have heard rumour that the project management team are taking a feed from the microphone system. I don’t object to this for the management team, as it would primarily be for the Inspector’s use I should imagine, and I think it essential that he should have such a copy. But there should be multiple sources, and one of those should be from the Council as the drivers for this exercise and responsible to the citizens of Leeds for openness of information. I am most grateful to the Inspector, Mr Martin Whitehead for not standing in the way of objectors picking up this responsibility.
The cross examination continued in much detail, raising issues such as the massive overrun on the costs of Edinburgh tram and the Atkins report. I am presently somewhat impressed by the encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject which Gregory Jones QC is demonstrating of the subject and his ability to take apart the pretensions of the NGT project. I shall have to write a piece on the way the Enquiry is working at some point, as it is a fascinating experience to see such skill at work.
The Enquiry continues on Wed 7th May at 10am in the Regus Suite at Wellington Place in the city centre.