Friday, 6 June 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 19

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 19

June 05 2014

This is now the updated blog of Day 19 (Thursday 05 June 2014) of the Enquiry, which was posted earlier to publish the audio links, while I had not yet completed my blog commentary, which is now added below the links.

The day started with Mrs Pickering picking up her cross examination of Mr Philip Ward, Conservation Officer for LCC, and she was followed by Doug Kemp for West Park Residents, Ian Barraclough for the residents of Headingley Castle, and myself as a private objector on several heritage points.

Since Mr Bill McKinnon for Friends of Woodhouse Moor, Dawn Carey Jones for North Hyde Park Residents and Stuart Natkus for Morley House Trust (Leeds Girls’ High School) were not available on Thursday, Mr Ward was allowed to stand down for the remainder of the day and Mr Sean Flesher, Head of Parks and Countryside, LCC took the stand and was cross examined by Chris Foren for the A660 Joint Council (Coalition of Residents’ Associations along the A660) who focussed largely on the question of Headingley Meadows and the proposed ‘pocket park’.

Commentary on the day will be added below the links.

In the first morning session of day 19 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 05 2014, Mrs Helen Pickering continues with her cross examination of Mr Philip Ward, focussing on the assessment of cumulative impacts along the several conservation areas which would be affected by NGT and following this with questions about the archaeological surveys which have been limited to desk based assessment and have not involved any actual examinations on the ground.

In the late morning session of day 19 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 05 2014 the cross examination of Mr Philip Ward, head of the Conservation department at Leeds City Council is continued, first by Doug Kemp for West Park Residents' Association on visual impacts in the West Park Conservation Area, and then he is followed by Mr Ian Barraclough for the residents of Headingley Castle on the impact that the trolleybus would have on the its beautiful parkland setting of this Grade 2 listed building.

In the early afternoon session of day 19 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, June 05 2014, Claire Randall takes the seat to cross examine Mr Philip Ward of LCC Conservation Dept on a number of aspects of the whole site along the wall up Headingley Lane to Headingley Hill, follows this with examination of whether he could support his statement of an aging tree stock then asks to what degree the heritage should acknowledge the value to local culture of such important former local residents as JRR Tolkien and extends this into an examination of whether the Heritage methodology acknowledges the concept of the spiritual value of nature and trees as understood in cultural anthropology of many diverse sources from animistic pagan to mainstream religions.

In the late afternoon session of day 19 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 05 2014, Mr Sean Flesher, LCC Chief Parks and Countryside Officer is introduced to the Enquiry and Mr Walton for the Applicant takes him through his evidence and is then followed by Gregory Jones QC who cross examines on the loss of playing fields and public amenity.  The final portion of the session is contributed by Chris Foren of the A660 Joint Council who begins his cross examination by examining the loss of green space that would be incurred if a trolleybus route were to go across Headingley Meadows and questions the suggestion that a new 'pocket park' between trolleybus and main road would be an improvement to public amenity and suggests that it is more bureaucratic doublespeak which seeks to turn a detriment into a gain through sleight of hand.

One of the principle matters that I have noticed coming up again and again with different cross examinations of Mr Ward is the low rating of impacts.  My understanding from Mrs Pickering was that she established that if an impact on an area was say ‘moderate’ but that others were assessed as ‘minor’ then the assessment for the entire area would be ‘moderate’, rather than having it ‘averaged down’.  In other words, the most significant impact is the one that should determine the assessment.  This is an important part of the ‘cumulative effects’ on areas.  Among the objectors, we have all been concerned that a large number of impacts have been assessed as less than we would have expected them to be, and so the averaging down is an even worse example of the same things.  Getting this acknowledged and rectified is an important point for the Enquiry.  (I have listened to all this, but there is so much detail, and many complicated references to both standard documents and those which are referred to from both English Heritage and the NPPF guidance texts, that I am obliged to take my understanding from my private discussions.  This is often the case with such an immense amount of detail, much of it technical, and should anyone listen to the online recordings and reach a different understanding then I am happy to take comments and refer back to the recordings for the purpose of correction.)

She also went on to establish that no field assessment of archaeological evidence had been made within the Headingley Hill fields within the Conservation Area, even though Mr Ward believed that this was unnecessary and that the desk based assessments had been adequate.  It was also established that should archaeological remains be found at a later stage if the NGT scheme went ahead, then they would have to be dealt with as and when they were found.  To objectors it is quite incredible that no on site examinations have been carried out on a site which could have remains buried.  I am told by the lady who grazes the horses on these fields that she has found fragments on this land which she believes could be of interest.  An on site evaluation would be helpful, especially with ground penetrating radar or other non invasive examinations such as many of us have seen used on Time Team.

Doug Kemp for West Park Residents established a number of instances in the West Park Conservation Area where the overhead lines would be noticeable visual intrusions.  A particular point which is related to one I drew attention to in my short cross examination of Mr Haskins in the second week was the failure of the photomontages to include all details such as these overhead cables.  A fair number of these and actual photographs of the locations concerned were put on the projector screen and we were able to see in detail exactly what Mr Kemp was drawing attention to.

Visual impacts on Headingley Castle were gone into by Mr Ian Barraclough and we were interested to hear that the fact that the curtilage is split between different owners was considered as material to the Applicant, whereas Mr Barraclough pointed out that this was as a matter of no importance and that the curtilage was still recognisable.

Again and again we find that the Applicant is downplaying the value of assets, and this continues in later cross examinations.

Before I mention my own cross examination I should mention Chris Foren’s session with Mr Sean Flesher of Parks.  The presentation of the ‘Pocket Park’ as an improvement from the point of view of the Council strikes me as one of the most extreme absurdities in the Enquiry so far.  The space between Headingley Lane and Headingley Lane is a marvellously unaffected space with its mature trees and open meadow above St Columba’s Church, which whilst it is held on private ownership is purposely left open to the public.  The term ‘permissive’ was used as opposed to formally public.  While this might not be formal public space, it is nonetheless a fine space, and has ‘de facto’ public access.  As I have stated in the audio link blurbs above, the location of a public space would squeezed between two roads.  To suggest that this would be an attractive space is frankly absurd in my own view, sandwiched as it would be between two roads.  To argue that the space would be an improvement simply because it would be designated as a public park is legalistic advantage taking and bears no real relation to the actual nature of the land.  We see this over and over again that some physical detriment is turned through spin and ‘mitigation’ into an improvement, when a real person would see the actual change and have little interest in the bureaucratic reclassification.  I am reminded of Mr Orwell’s 1984 in which ‘Truth is lies’, and where history is continually being rewritten to the extent where no-one is able to remember what really happened.  A small patch of green bordered by roads with trolleybuses going past every three minutes would apparently be an improvement on a stretch of parkland with mature Victorian planted trees.  The world is becoming a place of madness when such nonsense is promoted as truth.

My own cross examination dealt with a number of issues along the stretch of Headingley Lane up to Headingley Hill which I will leave to readers to catch up on, and concentrate on the closing stages of my examination.  I focussed on the ‘communal value’ of our local heritage.  I am most grateful to Helen Pickering for bringing this concept, taken from English Heritage, into the debate as it gave greater weight to my own position, that the culture of the area which has built up over many generations is an intangible but very real part of the area.  Had I not been able to refer to this, a document establishing it having been just mentioned, my argument might have been treated less sympathetically by the Inspectors.  I am glad that I was able to mention the presence of Professor Tolkien as a significant part of our local heritage as not only I, as a local historian of the Professor, but a large number of others feel his presence.

This allowed me then to lead to my final point about the importance of the feeling of spirituality in nature as understood in cultural anthropology.  Once more I am indebted to Mrs Pickering for helping contextualise a concept I introduced; in this case to establish its weight and importance through embedding it in the discipline of anthropology.

Supporters of the trolleybus make accusations of ‘nimbyism’ at me all the time on their own pages and they will probably take the same view on this topic I just mentioned.  I regret that such narrow and philistine attitudes prevail amongst the backwaters of opinion found on the internet.

However I am reassured that even in the parlous state of today’s democracy we are able to debate all the issues raised by such a major development as NGT.  This project would cost the taxpayer at least a quarter of a billion pounds and major destruction would be necessitated, and yet internet critics seem to think that this is something which should just be pushed through, and people such as myself who oppose it are characterised as ‘nimbies’ without any consideration of the arguments which are given either by myself in this blog, which result from the examinations of witnesses at the Enquiry, or the substantive arguments presented by Gregory Jones QC which cast many doubts on the competence of the NGT scheme and its viability. 

I was disappointed to see that one of these internet critics whose comments I saw on a site which I found through my analytics page said that they had tried to listen to the Enquiry audios but it was too slow, so they gave up.  Haste is one of the great evils of the modern world in my view.  These are weighty matters which we are exploring at the Enquiry, and ones which would affect not only Headingley but the whole of Leeds for generations to come, and in some ways in perpetuity.  They need lengthy and serious consideration, not simple twitter responses.  I am fairly certain that the Inspectors will not be following the twitter exchanges, and I would be concerned if they did.  It would be inappropriate for them to follow my blog of course, but you will certainly learn more about the deliberations of the Public Enquiry from this blog than from any twitter exchange, whether you agree with my opinions or not, since I refer to actual facts of the Enquiry on which I make comment.  In many ways this is just a gateway and introduction to the audio recordings.  If you really want to make an informed decision, listen to them, especially those in which Mr Jones cross examines, and you will (in my view) gain an insight into the flimsy and highly flawed nature of the NGT proposals.  

One reason I am engaged in making these audios is that I believe the evidence which is coming to light is strongly supporting the case of the Objectors.  If the supporters are so keen on the NGT scheme then they should believe that the evidence will show it in a positive light.  However, NGT’s attempt to withhold the consultation responses doesn’t encourage one to believe that they believe the public support the scheme.  Either way I am putting all the evidence in the public domain through the unpaid time of my colleagues and myself.  No good deed goes unpunished as they say.

This is why I will not engage with critics on twitter.  Twitter is an extremely useful tool for putting out brief soundbites and I have been most grateful to have such a free platform to put out announcements of the publication of the audio recordings and indeed of this blog.  But to suggest that I am avoiding debate by refusing to engage in soundbite captions on twitter is desperation in the extreme.  I will not trawl the internet to find sites where people are discussing my blog behind my back.  It reminds me of spiteful children who gossip among themselves ‘Ooh, you know what so and so said?’  I have invited such critics to post comments on my page, but so far I have had none.  Perhaps this is because I have stated that all comments are moderated, and in view of the kind of comments I see on the Tbus supporters page at skyscrapercity, then I believe I am wise to do so. 

I will not accept comments which name call, and ‘nimby’ is name calling.  Serious comments which engage with what I have said will be taken seriously, but facetious attempts to engage me in snide backbiting exchanges will not be.  For the interest of those who believe I am against this happening in my back yard, I should point out that I live about a mile from the route, which in my own estimate does not put it in my backyard.  Indeed, as well as pointing out the loss to local character and heritage which would be incurred by the destruction of hundreds of trees along the route, several houses and the compulsory purchase of gardens in West Park, I have also drawn special attention to what would be imposed on the Whitfields, a community of which I was not aware until the trolleybus scheme came into my world and I heard about it a year or so ago.  Whilst I did live for a term in Hunslet Grange flats some forty years ago in my first year as a student, I don’t think that can be held against me in my concern for the Whitfields, which I have now visited.

I have invited internet critics to engage with me on this page but they have preferred not to, although I continue to see a particular page referenced in my statistical analytics, so I know they are coming here!  Then apparently they go back to their ghetto and bitch about how biased I am.  Sorry folks, I am supervising and managing the recording and upload of usually four recordings on each day of the Enquiry (with the assistance of fellow objectors without whom I would be unable to do this) and following them with a daily blog.  For my trouble I am accused of stifling debate because I won’t make trite replied in 140 characters or less.  Really!  I simply don’t have time to get into their pages.  This is where my comments are hosted, and that is where replies should be posted.  Sniping behind my back is cowardly and those who do it marginalise themselves because their comments will not be seen by my hundred or so daily readers on this site.

Perhaps my critics should apply their time to lobbying the BBC and other mainstream media news sources to cover this extremely important enquiry.  It is a matter of some interest to me that the national broadcasting provider is ignoring such an important event as this enquiry.  I have to ask why this is the case for such a major issue.  I cannot help but believe that there is some policy that has been taken by the BBC, and perhaps other media institutions to ignore or at least play down the importance of this Public Enquiry.  If anyone in the BBC should wish to challenge me on this I would be happy to engage with them.  I am sure they could take the trouble to contact me if they believe that what I am suggesting is entirely untrue.  I would aver that they are neglecting their public duty to inform.  I may say that this kind of thing is the reason why three years ago I gave up my tv license and haven not watched broadcast television since.

I would thank all my readers for their attention and look forward to having them to continue to follow my audio recordings and this blog.

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