Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 33

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 33

July 15  2014


The Enquiry resumed for Day 33 after a two week break with half an hour’s debate and discussion with regard to the promoter’s submission of a revised 370 page Heritage statement.

In the first morning session the matter of the Applicant's submission of a huge 370 page resubmission of their Heritage case is looked over by the Inspector and several objectors. Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire raises the question of whether costs might be incurred due to the immense amount of work which would be required to review this document. Also whether private objectors would be in a position to claim costs, and not least whether the document should even be accepted by the Inspector and the implications for the entire Enquiry procedure should it be.

In the late morning session of Day 33 at the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 15 2014, Gregory Jones QC cross examines Mr Thomas Walker on the subject of the impact on visual amenity of the scheme should it go ahead, the photomontages which have been made to illustrate this impact in some places and the replacement of trees which NGT wishes to fell.

In the early afternoon session of day 33 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 15 2014, Gregory Jones QC cross examines Mr Thomas Walker on the landscape impacts of tree loss and the categorisation of tree quality on critical sites.

In the final session of Day 33 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Gregory Jones QC cross examined Mr Thomas Walker on landscape impacts of the proposed NGT trolleybus on the Leeds College of Art, for whom he was acting this afternoon.

There was rather more to Mr Jones’s speech at the beginning of the day than I could put into the summary paragraph.  It would appear that the submission of the extra Heritage document 370 pages long has been a spark to the tinder for First West Yorkshire.  They have had to put up with a lot from Metro, such as false allegations of being unco-operative when they had not even been consulted, which was exposed when Mr Henkel of Metro was cross examined in the first month of the Enquiry.

With regard to the submission of the new Heritage document, in a letter of the 4th July NGT stated that they did not admit that the original survey submission was inadequate, and so Mr Jones had to ask for justification as to why it had been submitted if this was the case, and to request that they come off the fence and admit whether it was inadequate and if that is the reason why it has been entered, or to withdraw it if it is maintained that the original was indeed adequate.

This was only part of the salvo which was fired at them in the first forty minutes or so of today’s sitting.  The main thrust which I did not fully understand immediately was that if Metro were to withdraw now, then First would not seek costs to cover their legal expenses.  My first impression was that this was in the grounds of simple rhetoric, but it was later explained to me by one of my sources that First have actually sent a letter to First informing them of this, a letter which I believe has also been sent to the Secretary of State, claiming that there is no chance of the Transport Works Order being granted due to the poor case and urging the sponsors to withdraw now, or, in effect, suffer the consequences.

This is a high risk strategy by First in that this tactic can only be used once.  If Metro ignore it, it cannot be used again.  Thus First must be motivated either by sheer bravado or a great deal of confidence in their position.  Bluffing does not seem to me to be a trick that Mr Jones would be keen on ~ he is a man who likes to pin his quarry to the wall with facts.

I wish I could say that I thought the NGT supremos had enough gumption to know when to quit, but I should be surprised if they do, and so I expect the Enquiry to continue to drag on until the end of October just as we have been expecting for the last few weeks.  For one thing, it is not they who will have to pay the costs, it is us, the mugs who pay our Council Taxes to them who will ultimately be footing the bill for this one.  

Leeds’ Labour Group are buoyed with a false sense of security engendered by the unpopularity of the Tory government (sorry, LibDems are a little lacking in credibility these days in my own world) and fail to see that the displeasure of the electorate could well be turned on them should it suddenly become widely known that they have flushed some £25 million down the tube for a folly of a project that was no more than a cheap and shoddy version of a tram project that was rejected a decade ago.  For anyone who cares to peer a little further than our Council would like us to there is always the spectre of the Edinburgh tram nightmare which is a living truth to anchor us in reality.

I should spend a little time reporting on the detail of the Enquiry which followed, but it all seemed a little flat after the importance of what went down in the first short session today.

It was instructive to hear Mr Jones taking apart the arguments of the Promoter when they suggest that ‘acceptance’ ~ basically people getting used to changes which might be imposed on them against their will, ~ is a meaningful part of the process they are proposing to inflict on the communities along the route, and hear how these changes would be whitewashed into being of no importance, when clearly they are.

I have been listening to Mr Walker and trying to characterise in my mind exactly how he comes across, and today it began to gel in my mind.  He speaks loudly and forthrightly, seemingly as a man who is confident of his position, but listen for a bit longer and he begins to sound like someone who feels that they are having to patiently explain why they are right to some child who doesn’t really understand the larger issues, and which he condescendingly has to spell out in pedantic detail.  Listen a bit more and perhaps he will begin to sound like someone who is impatient and dismissive of others who have the temerity to disagree with him.

As is frequently the case the sessions today were a lengthy trail through an immense amount of technical detail in guidelines, documents, policies and so forth.  But all the while the case is being tested and is often seen to be remarkably thin.  When Simone Wonnacott, Principal of the Leeds College of Art was informed of the NGT intention to make a compulsory purchase order on part of their land, they should not have been surprised that she might take a contrary position, and yet when they approached her with other proposals they were surprised that she did not embrace them, and again made allegations of being unco-operative.  These people like to throw accusations around, when they themselves have done nothing but try to impose their own ideas on others, and then make out everyone is at fault but themselves.  What kind of response would most people have when a situation begins with receiving a letter informing you of a compulsory purchase order on part of your property that you had had no warning about in advance?  Not the best way to start a relationship I’ll wager.

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