Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 5

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 5

May 7  2014

On the fifth day of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Gregory Jones QC continued to cross examine Dave Haskins, Project Director for NGT, the Applicant for the Transport Works Order to build the trolleybus system from Holt Park in the north of Leeds to Stourton in the south by the M1.

Audio recordings of today's and last week's sessions are available for streaming on my mixcloud site,

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Day 5: May 7 2014 First Morning Session.

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Day 5: May 7 2014 Early Afternoon Session.

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Day 5: May 7 2014 Late Afternoon Session.


Mr Jones’ examination ranged over many diverse matters of importance to the planning of such a project.  He appeared to have a far more encyclopaedic knowledge of trolleybus systems than Mr Haskins himself, citing problems in locations as diverse as the Ukraine, Clermont-Ferrand and San Francisco, deriving from local peculiarities.  One issue that has come up more than once is the problem of supply of spare parts over a projected sixty year period when it would be the only trolley system in the UK.  There is a background thrust to the NGT argument that they think trolleybuses are the transport technology of the future and that they desire to implement further lines around Leeds, possibly a link to Bradford in time and systems in other West Yorkshire cities, again with the suggestion of linking routes between them.  This is a projected view of a future which many of us find untenable.


The subject of consultation came up in the contexts of public consultation and consultation with the bus company.  In the former case Mr Haskins went to some length to justify and excuse withholding the feedback from the 2012/3 public consultation events suggesting that the feedback from consultation five years ago which had been published was sufficient, not allowing for any development in awareness by the community on such issues as this.  This matter has now moved on, since at the end of today’s sitting of the Enquiry photocopies of the feedback with the personal identifying data blocked out were finally surrendered to Objectors from the A660 Joint Council and North West Leeds Transport Forum.


Mr Jones pressed Mr Haskins quite strongly on the matter of why he and his team had not engaged actively with First about developing public transport.  Again Mr Haskins was evasive, saying at one point that he had no way of knowing what might happen to existing bus services if trolleybus was implemented, and seemed genuinely surprised when Mr Jones put it to him that he might have approached First about this, as well as engaging with them before the decision to go for a trolleybus in the first place.  He suggested that the aim of a transport strategy should be to maintain and enhance services, not put them into unknown and speculative situations.


The number of people required to stand on the trolleybus was dealt with in some detail this afternoon.  Exact figures are not available, but it is clear that well over half of passengers would be expected to stand for the length of their journeys.  A brief sense of farce possessed the Enquiry room and its occupants when Mr Haskins insisted, quite poker faced, that he thought it quite normal that people wouldn’t mind standing.  The association between a quality public transport service and being able to travel in comfort seemed beyond his grasp.  This has certainly been one subject that has come up strongly amongst the local objectors I know and have met.


I would say that there does seem to be a disconnect between NGT and Leeds City Council in relation to the citizens and communities of Leeds when it comes to this project of theirs.  They have attempted to withhold the public feedback, have neglected to talk to the bus company, have not properly examined the pros and cons of both the Supertram and other trolley systems, they are promoting a scheme which would be unique in the UK, while battery and hybrid technology is making advances by the month, senior administrators behind the trolleybus cannot even bring to mind the single largest environmental site along the route that would be lost, and the project director has complete confidence in his own ability to have projected the costs correctly, and that future implementation of the scheme would be held within that projection without problems. 


This is looking more and more to me like a vanity project.  My research has shown me that there are a small number of locations where trolleybuses have worked, but Wellington, which is shortly to give them up, while probably being the most successful, also demonstrates the reasons why that was so.  Implemented 90 years ago when there was far less road traffic than today, the city developed around the structure of the trolley lines, with wide roads, rather than what is being proposed for Leeds, both north and south, which is to carve its way along the route utterly changing the character of everywhere it touches.


We need to find solutions that fit the city, not refit the city around some new solution.  And it should not be done simply because central government is trying to hold a gun to our heads and say ‘This or nothing else’.  When it is such a bad idea as the one we have here it would be far better to stop and think further about what a public transport system is for.  It is to serve the city and its population, not the other way round.  What are we to do when our communities are expected to become no more than passageways for others to pass through as quickly as possible?  We must fit the transport around the people and the landscape.


One last point I should like to draw attention to concerning the trolleybus is the tweeting by Cllr Neil Walshaw at the weekend to cast doubt on the sincerity of First Bus in their stated intention to develop an improved system of transport.  I would suggest that this is the classic political tactic of ‘look over there’.  The purpose and function of the Public Enquiry is to examine the NGT trolleybus system, and the lawyers for First, along with numerous community and private objectors, are doing an excellent job of that.  It is literally being tested to destruction as the saying goes.  Should we then go ahead with such  a flimsy and speculative scheme as the trolleybus because the party which is exposing its total inadequacy would also suffer in its own way like the rest of us if it actually happened?  It is the suitability of the implementation of the radical and speculative trolleybus which is being examined, not that of the bus company which already operates some of the best services in Leeds along that route and Cllr Walshaw should bear that in mind, not try to slip the trolley folly past us while he hopes we look elsewhere.



The Public Enquiry continues.





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