Saturday, 14 June 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 23

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 23

June 12  2014

Day 23 of the Enquiry was taken up with the cross examination by Emeritus Professor Peter Bonsall of Mr Paul Hanson who is responsible for the modelling of traffic and demand used by NGT in their application for a Transport and Works Act Order to implement the works that would be necessary for their trolleybus scheme.

This is possibly the most detailed and technical day of the Enquiry so far and is probably quite hard listening for the layperson. However at least a short listen to some of it will help to give a flavour of the overall discussion of the issues since on the following day 24 Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire develops much of what is gone into here in such a way as to be more accessible to the uninitiated.

Links to the audio recordings of the four sessions are given here, and my commentary follows.

In the first morning session of day 23 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 12 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies Peter Bonsall resumes his cross examination of Mr Paul Hanson on the modelling of projected demand for the proposed trolleybus.

In the late morning session of day 23 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 12 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies Peter Bonsall continues his cross examination of Mr Paul Hanson on the modelling of  traffic and projected demand for the proposed trolleybus.

In the early afternoon session of day 23 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 12 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies Peter Bonsall continues his cross examination of Mr Paul Hanson on the modelling of  traffic and projected demand for the proposed trolleybus.

In the late afternoon session of day 23 of the Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry, June 12 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies Peter Bonsall concludes his cross examination of Mr Paul Hanson on the modelling of  traffic and projected demand for the proposed trolleybus.

As I have said, this was an immensely technical day and one which I found quite hard to follow.  This is one reason why I delayed in posting a blog about it, but in the light of Mr Jones’s cross examination of the same witness on the following day I felt I had a slightly better insight into what Professor Bonsall’s questioning had been establishing.

Both examinations make much reference to WebTAG.  This is the government approved Transport Analysis Guidance which should be applied to all transport projects. 

‘This overview provides general introductory information on the role of transport modelling and appraisal, and how the transport appraisal process supports the development of investment decisions to support a business case.’

It is my understanding that Professor Bonsall established that there were a number of instances in the modelling, and the assumptions on which it was based which do not conform to this guidance.  I believe the examples I gave in the blog for day 22 on the public transport usage around Kirkstall Lane and Headingley Hill is one of these.

At the time I understood such an individual example as being flawed, and that the methodology was being severely criticised. What I didn’t properly understand was that this was a lot more than a picking apart of a few bad examples which had been used in the traffic and demand modelling, but was actually a critique of the general methodology being used, which has been inconsistent.  So this is actually a far bigger problem than it might at first appear to be.

It is not insignificant that the Inspector, who has lately been at times impatient with objectors who have had lengthy cross examinations, was willing to let  Professor Bonsall to go through his entire sheaf of questions, a process which took nearly a day and a half with very little impatience or pushing from him.

The Professor is one of the very few people who actually have sufficient knowledge and practical experience (at one point he remarked to Mr Hanson about how he had once been in his position so clearly has done this kind of thing from more than a simply academic angle) to be able to make a meaningful appraisal of what has been done in the modelling.

Again and again we heard Mr Hanson saying that further work could have been done on the models used, but that this hadn’t been thought necessary.  I shall leave some of my thoughts on this for my comments on Mr Jones’s cross examination on the following day which helped me in a greater understanding of the implications of the Professor’s examination.

However I will remark again on the long silences and defensive tone of Mr Hanson.  You can’t see his wide eyed and baffled expression, but you can hear the delays and his tone of voice.  If you doubt what I say I would suggest you listen to some of the day’s proceedings and draw your own conclusions.  I’m fully amenable to discussion about any of the points I have raised over the course of the Enquiry, since as a layperson some of the technical material rather stretches the limits of my understanding, especially on this day 23, and if I have misunderstood anything that has been said I should be happy for readers to draw my attention to the point in any recording where my assessment has been demonstrably incorrect.

I am still getting page referrals from my friends at skyscraper city, but if they are discussing what I have written they are not posting it to my comments, so I don’t know what they think as I haven’t time to go searching for them.  The appropriate place to reply to me would be on the comments thread below each post, but I have had none so far, and objectors often say that they are glad of my recordings and blog so I shall continue and not worry about what people are saying behind my back but are too cowardly to discuss openly with me.

Since my commentary on day 23 is a little shorter than usual, and I am leaving my thoughts on Mr Jones’s following examination for my next posting, I will just take the opportunity to mention some other facts which have come my way from my contacts.

I hear that Metro, who have acquired the row of shops at Hyde Park Corner (along with the adjacent no2 Victoria Road and the old garage/ filling station which is now a small business) have just raised the rents on these by some 20% ~ well over inflation.

The monetary benefit to Metro must surely be small, so there will clearly be other motivations than merely that.   The first and most obvious is to let the tenants know who is boss, and to potentially discourage them.  I used to be a regular customer at one of these businesses, but the proprietor moved on as Metro were such a bad landlord and did everything to discourage the tenants.  This is not the first time over inflation rent increases have been imposed I understand. These shops are a boon to small businesses who are able to trade on a street with good footfall in low rent premises, so their penalisation by Metro seems to me to be both spiteful to the tenants and discouraging to the local economy.

But when this is combined with the other news I have been hearing, one may come to additional conclusions.

This other news is that in various locations all along the route for a while now employees of NGT/ Metro have been observed to be making measurements, marking trees that they wish to take down and generally doing things to pursue their end of implementing the trolleybus scheme.

I shouldn’t need to remind anyone, least of all NGT and Metro, that the purpose of the Public Enquiry is to ascertain whether the case presented is sufficient to justify and warrant a Transport and Works Order to carry out the scheme ~ based on the evidence they have accrued and consultations that have taken place over the last few years.

If the necessary surveys and measurements for the design plans have not yet been made then it would rather suggest to me that the promoters have been negligent of their tasks in preparing their case.  It is not right to be catching up on work that should have been done and completed before the Enquiry began.  If on the other hand they have done the necessary surveys, the additional fine tuning or revisions they are carrying out now implies an assumption that the Works Order will be granted and that the Enquiry is a mere formality.

It is not.  Councillors on the Exec Board and their associates in Metro may assert to us all they like about the necessity of this scheme, but that is by no means proven, and I think that the Inspector would probably take a dim view of any party that considered it was before the completion of the Enquiry.

Further possibilities suggest themselves.  Mrs Fahey of the Whitfields in Hunslet whom you will remember I interviewed on video has told me that people from NGT have been down her way making measurements again.  One would assume after the assertions of Jason Smith that this was the best route, considered over alternatives, a proper and full survey of the location had already been made, so one must ask why it is necessary to go back and make further measurements.

One somewhat speculative possibility is that ‘alternate routes’ are being considered, since apparently the recent surveyors mentioned these words to residents who asked why they were doing this.  This is only speculation at present, but either they had not done the original survey adequately, or there is some other reason.  If an alternate route is being considered, this would surely be out of the scope of the Enquiry as it has already been submitted as the ‘best choice’.  Perhaps they are trying to cover their options since it has become apparent there is some resistance.  Mrs Fahey’s questioning of Mr Smith would be the prime demonstration of this, our video being too recently published to have had an impact yet.  My own understanding from her being that she had had the impression that NGT had not expected resistance from residents in the area, so finding that there was might engender some backtracking from them.

To try to push ahead or even significantly alter their plans whilst we are in a period of abeyance for the enquiry is not only inappropriate but also demonstrates an unattractive degree of hubris on the part of the promoters.  We all know how much the leaders of the Labour group insist this must go through despite disagreement even within the ranks of their own party.

In my own experience hubris is often a mask for a lack of confidence, and overcompensation for it.  If it were such a foregone conclusion Metro would not need to bully tenants at Hyde Park Corner with unreasonable rent increases.  If they had done sufficient survey and analysis of the route details through Hunslet, or anywhere they purpose to go, they would not need to be making revisions at this late stage.

So we should all be concerned when an expert in this field of the stature of Professor Bonsall demonstrates that the traffic modelling has failed to meet the WebTAG standards, and it should set off alarm bells with all of us.

In every different subject that has been examined there have been shown to be serious shortcomings, whether it be consultation, assessments of heritage impacts or even the original decision to go for a trolleybus system back in about 2006, when the actual process that led to this appears to be vague, obscure and lacking in transparency.  And we should not forget the false allegations made by Metro against First of being unco-operative, which it is my understanding from both being there and listening again to the recordings, that Mr Jones established had been made.  I do not wish to be held up for libel, so I request that if my understanding is mistaken, please write to me in a comment detailing the session and time, and I shall revise what I say accordingly.  I have said this repeatedly, but no-one has come forward to rebut what I have asserted, so currently it stands.

Mr Jones’s cross examination on the following day 24 explores the shortcomings of the assumptions, methodology and implications of the modelling in some further detail and while it is probably more accessible to the layperson, nonetheless builds on what Professor Bonsall establishes here, and each reinforce the other.

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