Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 28

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 28

June 20 2014

Day 28 of the Trolleybus Public Enquiry saw Professor Bonsall continue with his extremely detailed cross examination of Mr Neil Chadwick on his business case for the trolleybus scheme.

Links to audio recordings are given here, and my commentary follows below.

In the first morning session of day 27 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Professor Peter Bonsall continues to cross examine Mr Neil Chadwick who is responsible for the business case which underlies the NGT proposals.

In the late morning session of day 27 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Professor Peter Bonsall continues to cross examine Mr Neil Chadwick who is responsible for the business case which underlies the NGT proposals.

Afternoon Session
In the afternoon session of day 28 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, firstly a private objector Mr Haigh puts questions to Mr Chadwick, and then Professor Peter Bonsall continues to cross examine Mr Neil Chadwick who is responsible for the business case which underlies the NGT proposals.

Following the announcement at the beginning of today’s proceedings by Mr Whitehead, the Inspector, that a satisfactory amendment had been made to the email which he had required the Applicant to prepare in order to rectify misunderstandings which may have arisen at the DfT from their inappropriate correspondence, Professor Bonsall resumed his cross examination of Mr Chadwick.

The morning’s questioning proceeded slowly at first since Mr Chadwick, in my view at least, was rather evasive and denied that the methodologies which the Professor was seeking to apply were necessary in the cases examined.

However Peter Bonsall is nothing if not persistent, and he developed his case slowly but deliberately.  He would not let the question of walking times, waiting times, crowding and standing on trolleybuses go away and despite Mr Chadwick’s attempts at avoidance eventually cornered him with the facts, which he had to admit, that due to the limited number of proposed stops and the distances between them, the walking times to these for most people would be increased.  This must be regarded as a significant factor, which would impact most on the elderly, disabled, shoppers carrying heavy bags and so forth.  There was an extremely embarrassing silence of some thirty seconds in his reply to this which in the context seemed a very long time and was followed by prevarication and an attempt to wriggle out from answering the question.

On the question of whether the waits at stops would be longer, he argued that since it was predicted that First would reduce services from their present more frequent service than what is intended for the trolleybus, then the waits for NGT would be shorter.  Anyone who has followed the Enquiry from the beginning will know that the matter of consultation with the bus company, or rather lack of it, has meant that their projections of First’s competitive response is entirely without any basis in evidence.

There appeared to be a similar lack of engagement about people’s responses to the prospect of standing.  I almost couldn’t believe that there was an ‘NGT 3’ option mentioned which only included 40 seats.  I had to play that back on the recording twice before I could believe he had really said that.

Neil Cameron QC protested that his learned friend Gregory Jones QC was making too many interruptions on this cross examination. And indeed it is true that Mr Jones did make a fair number of interjections on this thread.  However, when challenged on this by the Inspector, he made it clear that on the basis that Mr Chadwick had been making assertions that Mr Jones had said things which he absolutely had not, and other prevarications, then he would find it necessary to extend his own cross examination by at least half a day in order to deal with all of this when his own cross examination comes up later.

NGT’s claims as to the expected increase in ‘active modes’ of transport and other claims that the impact of NGT would be ‘strongly beneficial’ were examined, and the Inspector found it necessary to ask why this was considered to be the case.  He asked ‘how do you weigh or balance’ the pro and con factors ‘against one another’ and was given the incredible answer ‘it’s not a formulaic process’, ‘explicitly it is based on our judgement and our experience, and I’m applying this not just here but in many other places’, ‘all these qualitative assessments are fundamentally our judgement on how to interpret the data that is in front of us.’  ‘Every one of these textual descriptions is our judgement.’  To which the Inspector simply replied with a subdued ‘Thankyou’.

Just read those quotes from the last sentence again.  They can be found from about 85 minutes into the first morning session recording

Has he not just hammered a six inch nail into NGT’s coffin?  Can it really be acceptable for the promoter to actually say that they have assessed that their scheme will be ‘strongly beneficial’ in their own judgement and that that is sufficient evidence for which the Inspector to base his own judgement on? This is astonishing.  After all the technical work we have gone over in the last two months, this is no more than a subjective opinion and one which favours its author.  Thus they must surely be dismissed or at least greatly downgraded in value.

This was followed shortly by the exposure of an immense clanger on the part of NGT, the examination by Professor Bonsall of a point which a number of other objectors had also spotted in their Statements of Case.

In Document A08E – 4 page 15, it was stated in table 3.6 that new housing at Kirkstall Forge was in close proximity to St Chad’s NGT stop and that the resulting change in accessibility is ‘significantly beneficial’, to which Mr Chadwick admitted that this was ‘clearly rubbish’. It transpired that this had been put in by consultants Mott MacDonald and had been taken out from documents after September of 2013.  He attempted to minimise its significance on the basis that it had been removed, but the point would not go away about how it got into the report in the first place, and it was left to the Inspector to point out that this sort of thing ‘doesn’t help the confidence of the objectors’ when things like this are put in ‘if that’s wrong are there a lot of other things wrong?’

All this occurred within the morning’s first session.

I should briefly mention the admirably insightful and well focused examination from Mr Haigh, a private objector who was only available for a short time today and so was fitted into part of the afternoon session.  He asked questions around the projection and modelling of the various proposed routes, and the matter was raised that the original three line NGT (including St James’s and Seacroft) had had a projected annual number of journeys of some 6 million, but when the third leg was removed and their estimates were revised, a total of approximately 11 million annual journeys accrued.  The detailed modelling of this was not examined, but one has to ask if this is a case of one of their subjective assessments, as it is hard to understand how a reduction in service of approximately 30% could lead to an increased projection of passenger journeys of about 45%?

An objector who has been unable to attend the Enquiry in person but has been listening to the recordings rang me last night and referred to the NGT case as ‘a shambles’.  Not my word, it is one which an observer has made but one with which I find it hard to disagree.  One may disagree, and one is entitled to an independent opinion, but we must base our opinions on the evidence, and I would suggest that this has not been a good week for NGT in the light of much of it.  Professor Bonsall may not succeed with every shot he takes, but so many of them are so serious, of which I include those I have mentioned above and on previous days, that one has to wonder what the Inspector is making of it all.

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