Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 9

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 9

May 14  2014

On Day 9 Mr Gordon Robertson, Signals Engineer and witness for the Applicant NGT concluded his time as a witness facing cross examination from several objectors and was followed by Mr Jason Smith who began by giving an engineering perspective on the work that would be required to implement the proposed trolleybus system.

Audio recordings of all sessions today are linked below.  The early afternoon session broke for five minutes after Mr Robertson completed and the next witness came on. 

I should express my gratitude to the several colleagues who have been assisting with the recording of the Public Enquiry and without whom only a fraction would be covered.

In the first session of day 9 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry May 14, 2014, Professor Bonsall continues to cross examine Gordon Robertson, Signals Engineer for NGT planning and Mr Malcolm Bell, private objector and mechanical engineer follows, including questions on flow and how this would all affect emergency services.

In the late morning session of day 9 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, May 14 2014, the cross examination of Mr Gordon Robertson, Signals Engineer, continues with questions from Dr John Dickinson for Weetwood Residents' Association, Cllr Barry Anderson (C., Adel) and Douglas Kemp, Chair of West Park Residents' Association, focussing on effects on pedestrians, and flows at new junctions among other technical road issues.

The first part of the early afternoon session of day 9 at the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, May 14 2014. The final part of Mr Gordon Robertson's cross examination.

The second part of the early afternoon session of day 9 at the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, May 14 2014. Mr Jason Smith begins his time as a witness by explaining engineering requirements and is questioned by Mr Neil Cameron QC on these matters.

In the final afternoon session of day 9 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, May 14 2014. Mr Jason Smith continues to be questioned on engineering requirements by Mr Neil Cameron QC on these matters. Following this, Chris Longley of the Federation of Small Businesses and who has experience of the Sheffield Supertram begins his cross examination with questions on serious engineering detail.

The amount of technical detail which has been covered in the last couple of days is immense and has somewhat boggled me at times.

The detail has seemed to focus largely on how junctions can be optimised, and how the traffic signalling works, timings and so forth.

An interpretation that one of my co objectors drew from some of this was that the works that could be done to improve traffic flows without introducing the trolleybus have been held back in favour of a grandiose ‘prestige’ system.  It has been suggested that these improvements should be made without a trolleybus, I am not sure whether this would include all the road widenings and tree losses or simply junction and lights improvements, but either way there is the point that little seems to have been done with the present system to truly optimise it.

Mr Robertson came across well and in an engaging manner which softened the objectors to him in a way that could not be said of his predecessors, and we did feel that he was a competent technical witness in the main, although we perhaps bumped into the limits on his vision when he said in response to Malcolm Bell’s searching questioning about whether a truly intelligent and adaptive computer mastering system for the traffic light management could be introduced, that he thought we had not only one of the best systems he had ever seen, a credible statement, but that he believed it could not be improved upon.  Such a statement of overconfidence was quite uncharacteristic of what we had seen of Mr Robertson.  I wouldn’t suggest that he might purposely mislead the Enquiry, but professional pride in one’s skills and achievements can blind one to the possibility that others might be able to improve on your work.

I myself had a short question about buses from Shaw Lane and how they might be affected by trolleybuses coming out of Alma Road, the answer to which I did feel was on the speculative side but delivered with more assurance than I felt it deserved.  But perhaps I am just a layperson who doesn’t understand.

I inadvertently incurred the displeasure of the Inspector when, for the last question of the morning session, I appended an enquiry as to what Mr Robertson thought of the cost to the local environment and community with loss of trees and so forth and whether it was worth it, for which I was sternly rebuked by the Inspector.  Had I known I would bring his ire down upon my head I would have spared my breath.  Not that I was expecting him to say anything major, rather it was an attempt to see him as a whole person who was not simply a technician. 

Technical skill is a marvellous and useful thing, but to only see the world through that left brain view is to limit what we are capable of.  It is a reflection on the values of our culture that we have lost touch with the other aspects of life so that even though the heritage and environmental issues are being strongly argued it may well, though not absolutely certainly, be decided on brute facts, or rather claims, of being able to move so many people per hour at such and such a speed.  So a heritage environment that has survived largely intact could be eviscerated for entirely utilitarian reasons.  Imagine if someone tried to do this to Venice.  It would be laughed out of the room.  Okay, Headingley is not Venice, but along with a few other villages and suburbs of old Leeds such as Chapel Allerton it is a remnant of a rich historical past which should not be wilfully thrown away. 

There is a radical disconnect between the functionality of the machines and systems which should be serving us and our need for the continuity and preservation of our communities and their environments.  In a rational world the latter of these would take priority and the former would serve it, so that the systems serve the people.  But this natural order is reversed and the communities and environments become entirely subject to the control and domination of outside influences exercised through the imposing of mechanic systems onto people’s lives.  I’m reminded of Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’, people being driven through the cogs and wheels of a machine.

Until we are able to create systems which when implemented serve the local population rather than making the people serve those systems, then we will have neither freedom nor functionality.

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