Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 21

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 21

June 10    2014

Day 21 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry saw the completion of the cross examination of Mr Sean Flesher, Head of Parks and Countryside.  Links to the recordings of the day’s questioning from five different objectors follow and I add commentary below these.

In the first morning session of day 21 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 21 2014,  the Inspector Mr Whitehead asks a series of questions of Mr Sean Flesher, Head of Parks and Countryside, on impacts on green space, and is then followed by Mr Bill McKinnon, for Friends of Woodhouse Moor on how NGT would impact there.

In the late morning session of day 21 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry June 10 2014 Mr Bill McKinnon of the Friends of Woodhouse Moor completes his cross examines Mr Sean Flesher on the impact of the proposed trolleybus route on the most used park in Leeds.  He is then followed by Mrs Eileen Pattison speaking for Middleton Park Labour Party about the impact of NGT on Belle Isle Circus.  Lastly Mr Stuart Natkus representing Headingley Land Developments on the proposed public parks for Headingley Hill.

In the early afternoon session of day 21 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 10 2014, Ms Dawn Carey Jones cross examines Mr Sean Flesher, Head of Parks and Countryside on green space issues of the impact of the trolleybus route.

In the final session of day 21 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 10 2014, Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant introduces Mr Paul Hanson who is responsible for traffic modelling for the NGT scheme and takes him through his summary proof of evidence.

I was only able to attend the Enquiry today for a short period, so I have had to rely on feedback from those who attended and of course the audio recordings, for which I am most grateful to my colleagues amongst the objectors who took care of these.

The locations dealt with in the questioning today were essentially the three main green spaces that the trolleybus route would pass through, and for which new roads would be required: Woodhouse Moor, Headingley Hill and Belle Isle Circus.

To sum up what I gathered from what I heard myself and what others told me about, there is an issue which came up again and again in various  guises, but had one single theme and thread running through them. It is my belief that this is the core of how Leeds City Council wish to present their scheme, however in my own view this is like Dorian Grey, whose real face is hidden on a painting in an attic, and not as pleasant as that shown to the public.

This can be summed up by the fact that Mr Flesher has repeatedly maintained that these parks and green spaces would actually be improved by the presence of a trolleybus route passing through them.  One surely has to be adept at mental gymnastics to understand this, but in essence what he was saying was that because a few benches, a disabled access pathway or a few new planted trees to ‘mitigate’ the destroyed mature ones might be planted, that the parks would then fulfil the ‘Leeds Quality Parks’ standards which they do not now apparently, even though as was admitted for instance, Monument Moor is accessible to wheelchair users as it now stands.  There is just no formally designated access route.  (Mr Ward claimed similar things about the intended partial demolition of buildings up Headingley Lane.)

Belle Isle Circus, which is a grassed area roundabout of a sufficient size to act as a park, with mature trees around much of its perimeter, would also apparently be upgraded by the passage through its centre of a new trolleybus route (with poles and cables of course) because a few extra park benches and improved disabled access would be added.

A similar claim is made with respect to the meadow on Headingley Hill behind St Columba’s church.  While this land is technically private it is open to the public, and I may have mentioned before how the lady who leases this land allows what is known as ‘permissive’ access.  This beautiful and completely unspoilt countryside meadow within a hundred yards of The Original Oak pub would have a two lane trolleybus road (again with cables and poles) built through it requiring the felling of a substantial number of superb mature trees dating from the Victorian period, and nearly all in good health.  Remember this is within the view of Headingley Castle which Mr Ward the other day admitted would suffer a ‘harmful’ impact, and that a trolleybus once in each direction every six minutes would mean the passage of a forty five foot bendy bus once every three minutes.  But the taking of the remnant fragments of land into public ownership and designating them ‘parks’ apparently improves them.

This is an entirely paper based exercise which bears no true relationship to what would actually take place, which in material fact would be a serious loss of natural environment and open parkland which would be invaded by the frequent and incessant passage of large vehicles for over 18 hours of each day.  It is mere sophistry, the arguing that black is white.  We have truly entered Orwellian territory here, where truth is lies and the government can define words to mean whatever it wants them to.

Briefly I should also like to mention Mrs Eileen Pattison’s short but pertinent set of  questions.  I have already referred to the problems for Belle Isle Circus, but we must recognise that she is speaking for the local Labour Party which is going against the Labour group which dominates the Council.  This Labour group is becoming more and more autocratic and out of control.  I have mentioned Eastgate, Royal Park School and the suspension of Cllr Illingworth elsewhere, but it is interesting that the Labour Councillors for the area have felt themselves obliged to follow the dictates of their high ups on the Exec Board rather than the grass roots feeling of those who would be most directly impacted by the proposed development.  As a former Labour voter this is one reason why I do not now vote Labour (except for the good Cllr Illingworth whom I regard as a human being rather than a politician, having known him for some twenty years).  My understanding about the Labour Party was that it was supposed to represent the people, or at least that is what Keir Hardy intended so far as my knowledge goes, not that it was intended to become a new top down dictatorship, which is what we have now.  And I think many of us have become concerned with its overly cosy relationship with corporations and property developers.  Victoria Gate:  I rest my case.  The trolleybus is little different.  Three line party whip on their members who would otherwise be inclined to vote with the wishes of their constituents, and a refusal to make any attempt to properly consult on the type of solutions Leeds should seek for its traffic congestion (which is a city wide problem, and not even at its worst in Headingley.  Have you been on the Kirkstall Road at five thirty on a weekday afternoon?)  Instead they bulldoze ahead and call those such as myself and others who campaign against it ‘Taliban’.  Perhaps these despots should look in the mirror once in a while.

This is an immensely serious matter we are dealing with here, not just for those communities on the proposed route, but by extension for the whole of Leeds, West Yorkshire and even the whole country when truly fallacious arguments such as those which are employed to justify such extensive environmental, conservation and heritage degradation. 

Frankly, the arguments are laughable. 

One can only hope that the Inspector is wise enough to see through the smokescreen of technical language, ‘quality standards’ and gobbledegook, but one has to be concerned that he is constrained by the legalese structure and format which is imposed by central government on how he is required to assess the issues. 

But this witness does not stand alone.  Probably the youngest to take the stand so far, he has also been on the shortest period of time, and I would suggest that he is little more than a glove puppet for the powers that be.  We should remember the high ups such as Mr Farrington, who was demonstrated to be ignorant (he had never heard of the Liverpool trolleybus scheme that was rejected in 1999 until the first day of the Enquiry) or Mr Henkel, whom it would appear was shown to have mislead the Enquiry in his criticism of First when actually he, or his team, had done those very things that they made accusations about.  If I have misunderstood what was said, I should be most grateful to anyone who could refer me to the point in the recordings which can help me clarify this.

There certainly is no question that Mr Ward admitted to Mr Natkus that there were matters which did ‘not appear to add up’ in submitted proofs.

So we can only hope that the Inspector will look more deeply than the beguiling front and recognise what is going on beneath that surface.

There was a certain amount of impatience from the Inspector in the later part of the day regarding repetition of questions which had already been asked or topics which had been covered, and this is understandable on his part, however it is very difficult for objectors who have not been present to always follow what has already been covered.

You may well say ‘What about the audio recordings?’, and indeed ~ however there are two things that come to mind with respect to these. 

Firstly, it takes time to process and upload these, and there is a delay so that someone in an afternoon session could not reasonably be expected to have heard the morning session as it may well not even be online until later, and Ms Dawn Jones was subject to this limitation in her own questions, a large number of which had already been touched on by Mr McKinnon before she arrived.  However, it was also the case that I understand from Ms Jones that she believed she would have taken these questions in different directions to those taken by Mr McKinnon. 

The second point is simply that even given a fast internet link, the time taken to follow the proceedings through the online recordings could take up all one’s time every evening.

Last week Mrs Peerless, the specialist assistant Inspector for Heritage referred at least twice to the recordings, but Mr Whitehead the chief Inspector had not done so to my recollection.  However today he did and I felt this was not entirely proper, being as these recordings which I am co-ordinating and being assisted with by other objectors are an informal project we are undertaking.  We are doing this equally both for our own reference and as a public news service, given that the mainstream media coverage of the Enquiry has been scanty at best, and almost entirely lacking in the quarter of public service broadcasting which has a duty to the license payers to keep them informed.

Thus for the Inspectors to refer to the recordings as if they were an official source is improper.  I mentioned this to the Programme Officer, as it would be improper of myself to make unsolicited approaches to Mr Whitehead, and asked her to convey my concern that this overstepped boundaries.  I was encouraged that after the close of the day’s proceedings Mr Whitehead did come up to me and we had a few friendly words about the matter.  While I am happy for all, including the Inspectors and even the Applicant’s team to refer to the archive, it was agreed that it would not be correct to regard it as a formal service which everyone should be expected to have listened to.

For myself, my main point about this is that with the ease of digital recording, and the massive increase in availability of data storage which has only really become possible in the last five years or so, it is negligent of Leeds City Council to fail to make a formal set of recordings which they could make available as podcasts.  Our own recordings which are currently hosted on are not at present downloadable unfortunately, because we are constrained with the availability of free space.  We should like to be able to put them out as podcasts so that people can listen with greater convenience, but our prime concern in choosing Mixcloud was to have a site which would have free unlimited upload capacity so that it would not suffer a takedown if we were unable to maintain payments at any time.

However, the team of Objectors and I are very proud of what we are achieving here and when all this is over we shall be looking at lodging the archive with some public library resource either in Leeds, where there are a number of places where this could be done, or elsewhere.

As to the failure of Leeds City Council to take responsibility for doing this, the excuse of ‘too expensive’ is, again, laughable.  It has cost us almost nothing in financial terms, so we have to look for other reasons.  At the top of the list we would suggest that it is not considered desirable for the Public Enquiry to be truly public.  As objectors we are happy for it all to be out there (barring the loss of the odd minute or so from time to time) as we are confident that what is being said is good evidence against this insane scheme.  Just as NGT withheld the consultation results until it became unviable, we would suggest that LCC are deliberately being obstructive towards this.  However, since none of them have come to the Enquiry and none have been questioned, they have not been put on the spot in the way that the NGT witnesses and counsel have, and so have not responded to popular demand.  One feels that they are painting themselves into a corner, and the longer this goes on, the more difficult they will find it to change their strategy, but at the same time this demonstrates the unrelenting autocracy of the Exec Board.  As someone once said, by your works are you known, and withholding of information is not something that encourages confidence in this day and age.
The effects on the Whitfields in Hunslet for instance have not been exactly publicised by the Council, so find out what they purpose for the good people of that community in this video made recently.

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