Friday, 18 July 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 35

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 35

Today was, in my view, quite a significant one in the development of the Enquiry.  I was only able to attend for a part of the day so I had to catch up with the proceedings before being able to make the commentary which follows the links.  If you only have an hour to devote to listening I would suggest getting up to speed with the developments around the submission of the new 370 page Heritage document which takes the first 40 minutes or so of the first audio recording at the beginning of the day, and then to move on to the devastating cross examination of Mr Walker in the final session of the day, starting at about 22:30 on the late afternoon session recording.

Commentary follows below audio links.

The first morning session of Day 35 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 17 2014 begins with about an hour of discussion around the letters between First West Yorkshire and the Applicant NGT over the submission of late Heritage technical evidence. This is then followed by Mrs Helen Pickering for the Drummonds and Churchwoods Residents Association who cross examines Mr Thomas Walker on the visual and landscape impacts on Far Headingley if the NGT scheme were to go ahead.

In the late morning session of Day 35 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 17 2014, Mr Stuart Natkus for Morley House Trust and others cross examines Mr Thomas Walker on the landscape and visual impacts on Headingley Lane which would be created by the NGT trolleybus scheme should it be approved and implemented.

In the early afternoon session of Day 35 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 17 2014, Ms Claire Randall cross examines Mr Thomas Walker on some aspects of treess relevant to the Enquiry and then concludes her examination by analysing the unnecessary and prejudicial changes which were made to the photomontages of key locations as they are expected to look should the NGT proposals be implemented.

In the late afternoon session of Day 35 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, July 17 2014, Mrs Sue Sleeman delivers questions to Mr Thomas Walker on behalf of Ms Claire Randall on the visual and landscape impact of the proposed NGT scheme on Headingley Lane should it be accepted and be implemented. She is then followed by the Inspector Mr Martin Whitehead who asks a series of penetrating questions and lastly Neil Cameron QC who re-examines Mr Walker who has now completed his evidence as a witness at the Public Enquiry.


There was so much content in today’s sitting that it would be impossible to get in all the detail, but in significant business the day began with a forty minute discussion mostly between the Inspector, Gregory Jones QC (for First) and Neil Cameron QC (for NGT) on the whys and wherefores of the submission of the revised Heritage document which has been submitted recently.  The importance of this is that there have been a number of objections to its inclusion in the evidence, and there has been correspondence about its appropriateness from both sides.

NGT are playing a dangerous game here since if the new document is not allowed their credibility will be seen to be seriously reduced.  While Mr Cameron is maintaining that his client merely wanted to make sure that the Inspector had all the evidence before him so that he had the choice to include it or not, Mr Jones is strongly asserting that this is an admission that the original evidence was incomplete and/ or inaccurate.  Certainly I have heard that, for example, the new document gives a set back of walls in front of Rose Court at only 2 meters, whereas when I gave my cross examination of Mr Ward, I was told it was 5 meters.  I certainly don’t have the time to trawl through all 370 pages in order to winkle out more details like this and I’m sure that others feel the same way.  The Inspector wants to have responses to the new letter from NGT arguing our reasons in by Monday from those who have already objected to it so I shall have to compose that over the weekend.  All the extra work is most unwanted and as a private objector I believe I am not entitled to seek costs for any expense incurred in examining this document, so there is nothing in it for me.  Frankly in my view it is an affront to the Enquiry.  One can sense that this is an extra burden and decision which the Inspector would rather not have added to his plate, in an enquiry which has already expanded well beyond what was first anticipated.

The two cross examinations which took up the remainder of the morning were good solid attacks on the proposals, and something which was to be highlighted later on was the way that the Applicant had repeatedly ‘taken a view that’ a particular decision was best often without a great deal of basis in evidence, consultation, or the statements of guidance which are used in such cases.  One significant point that Mrs Pickering drew attention to was the Promoter’s reliance on ‘mitigation’ strategies, such as the replacement tree planting, which she showed was only the same as is required for any redevelopment in Leeds according to published guidelines.

Frankly, this word ‘mitigation’ is one I have come to cordially despise over the last couple of months.  The Promoters seem to have ‘taken the view’ that you can do pretty much anything you like so long as you ‘mitigate’ afterwards.  This leaves the absurd situation where, as on Headingley Lane, a significantly ‘positive’ building could be partly demolished, making a significant adverse impact, but which would end up being a positive result simply on the basis that the remaining part of it  would be reconstructed after the demolition was completed.

Again and again there appear to have been ‘views taken’ and subjective judgements made without recourse to guidance documents or consultation.  One is reminded of Mr Neil Chadwick who reported that his team had made qualitative judgements based on nothing more than their own views or perhaps we should say ~ opinions.

I myself had the opportunity to put some questions to Mr Walker in the early afternoon, focussing in the time I had available on the value of the old trees and the quality of the photomontages.  I asked him if he was aware of the concept of the spirituality of trees as embodied in social anthropology which had been acknowledged by Mr Ward, and I was most encouraged when, having put to Mr Walker that while the spiritual value and collective grief that would be felt at the loss of the trees might be hard to quantify, some qualitative assessment would have been appreciated, the Inspector interrupted to ask if any such qualitative assessment had been done and of course we were told that it hadn’t been considered necessary.  I think the Inspector might have been slightly trailing his later questions with that.

The set of  questions on the maps and photomontages I had been waiting to put for nearly two months now since Mr Haskins had passed on them had to be squeezed into half an hour and since it was known that I wished to finish close to a quarter past three (I had a concert at York Minster to get to by 7pm) I had a definite feeling that Mr Walker was delaying a’purpose as Sam Gamgee might say. 

It was gradually squeezed out of him that maps should be properly presented at consultations and not laid out in the confusing way that I had brought to the attention of the Enquiry with Mr Haskins who had admitted the example I cited and then I was able to get onto my main piece which was to demonstrate bias in the presentation of the photomontages. 

My evidence was clear from the guidance documents that these montages should be meticulously produced and that the images should be presented such as to make comparisons clear.

Going through a number of these images I was able to demonstrate that nearly all of the ‘before’ pictures had bare winter trees, overcast skies and almost no people in the them, whereas a preponderance of the ‘after’ pictures showed trees in full leaf, blue skies overhead and streets thronging with people, giving irrelevant negative or  positive associations to one or the other in the background.  Mr Walker prevaricated by continually returning to mention of the overhead lines (OLE) and I was forced to ask him to answer the questions and not refer to matters of which I had made no mention.  I think the killer blow was the absurdly blue sky over the Three Horseshoes pub in an ‘after’ picture which was clearly the same base photo which had had a mostly white cloudy sky.   

The Inspector himself asked whether there were any comparisons that were the other way round, which of course there aren’t, and Mr Walker had nothing to say on this other than that he didn’t think it was deliberate and that they were only trying to show how things might be after implementation.

I confess to taking some satisfaction in pressing my questions as to why he and his team had departed from the guidance documents, and indeed from the scientific method itself, in changing more than those details which were required to be changed, so that other factors irrelevant to the NGT scheme were allowed to intrude with subliminal images of positive or negative associations.  As I put it to him ‘Are we expected to believe that after NGT there will always be blue skies?  Clearly not.’   So why were the skies changed?

I was reminded of Mr Jones examining Mr Hanson on why he had departed from the WebTAG guidance and the attempts to deny that it mattered.  If there is one thing the Inspector doesn't like, it is submissions which contravene rules and guidance.

And yet, the best Mr Walker had to offer was that some graphic designer had got carried away with their enthusiasm and overstepped the guidelines.  I would put it to anyone who believes this that the team is either incompetent for allowing such biased imagery to slip through against standard guidelines, not just in one image, but as a consistent pattern in the photomontages (see document B-7 for most of these), or else Mr Walker is misleading the enquiry in putting forward assumptions that are no more than speculations he cannot substantiate.

It is not for me to make the judgement on this as to motivation and intent, but merely as a professionally qualified Art Therapist to draw attention to the inconsistency and unscientific methodology present here in the visual imagery and point out the psychological effects that these subliminal associations would have on viewers. 

As I said ~ ‘Do I have to quote Ivan Pavlov 1904?’  Everyone knows what is probably the most famous experiment in the history of psychology where a bell which had been associated with the presence of food produced a salivating response in the dog when it was rung in the absence of food.  Does the team at Gillespie’s think we are to be treated like dogs in a conditioning experiment to have our feelings triggered by positive and negative associations such as blue or cloudy skies? 

I am told by observers that they thought that the Inspector showed quite a degree of interest in this part of the examination, which was congruent with my own experience ~ he had appeared to be smiling and had clearly grasped the central point of this examination.

For my last question I took the opportunity to pick up a remark which Mr Walker had made which I had found rather strange, so I exercised my right to examine him on what he had said.

When Mr Tony Ray, the retired town planner, had been examining him on Wood Lane, surely one of the finest views in all Headingley and visible right from the main road, he had made the curious remark that NGT would treat this area with sensitivity, because this was where the Ripper murder had taken place.

He claims have been a student in Leeds in the 1980s so perhaps the Jacqueline Hill murder of November 1980 was before his time, but if he had any knowledge of the matter, as any local person will tell you, the tragedy took place in Alma Road at the other end of the Arndale Centre, not Wood Lane.  He didn’t know this on examination and had thought that Wood Lane was the place.  When I asked him if having the NGT crossing of Alma Road and the turnaround layby proposed for trolleybuses to pass over the spots where the unfortunate victim had been murdered and then dragged to in the bushes, now a car park, was treating the memory with respect, he tried to slip out of it claiming this was not what he had meant.  Apparently he is concerned with the safety of the Wood Lane stop and how it should be visible from the street because he thought this is where the murder had taken place.  I should have thought that visibility and good lighting for the safety of passengers on dark nights would have been de rigeur for any of the much vaunted NGT bus shelters, but apparently the proposed Wood Lane stop needs special attention, as if he were suggesting that the Ripper were still on the prowl. 

He said that an objector had mentioned the Ripper and this was why he had referred to it himself.  I do not recall any previous questions mentioning this, and certainly Mr Ray had not mentioned it in the 16 minutes before it came up so it remains a curious comment.

He failed to respond to my suggestion that a cross road and roundabout on one of the most infamous murder spots in Leeds would not only be insensitive to the memory but also would be an unpleasant thing for passengers to know about as they passed along the route on their daily commute.  One would have the memory continually brought into ones mind on a daily basis and it would not be allowed to rest.  His final response that he thought I was making too much of this in order to build up my case reminded me of his reply when I asked about the collective grief of the community if our old trees were to be taken from us.  Basically he has no interest in the inner lives of the population of our community or our feelings.  He said himself earlier ‘I am not a psychologist’.  But he extends this to imply that the world of feelings which we all inhabit is of no value.

It is always hard to descry the Inspector’s views on matters, he is necessarily and properly inscrutable most of the time.  So I take some heart in the fact that he thanked me for making it clear to the Enquiry about the actual location of the events which had been alluded to, a remark which he had no need to make.

I had to wind up and leave immediately after this, so I didn’t catch what happened until a day or so later.  After the break I was most grateful to Mrs Sue Sleeman for taking on a block of questions I had about the proposed changes on Headingley Lane but which I didn’t have time to include in the hour that I had and which she delivered most capably when I had gone.

Following this was one of the biggest surprises of the whole Enquiry so far to date, at least to me.  The Inspector does often ask questions, but usually only one or two at a time, interrupting when he feels a witness is not answering the question.

This time he had saved the best for last.  A series of withering blasts ensued putting under the spotlight the question as to what kind of consultations Mr Walker’s people had had with local residents on these environmental plans that were being put forward.  The community who use St Columba’s Church were especially mentioned since such a large block of complaints had come from this demographic, and the Inspector asked what sort of engagement had occurred with this group.  None ~ was the answer, either before the objections had been submitted or even afterwards in response to them.  In fact on virtually all of the associated questions which Mr Whitehead put to the witness it appears that the guidance on consultation for such major schemes as this was not followed.  The only consultations which had been made were with institutions such as the Leeds Civic Trust and the like. 

This is troubling to me in more ways than one.  Not just that an institution was preferred to the local population in its opinion, but the fact that the Civic Trust has declined considerably in its credibility over recent times since it has allied itself not to the heritage and conservation interests of our beautiful Victorian and Edwardian inheritance, but has begun getting close to property developers and supports the implementation of NGT.  I had a long face to face conversation with Dr Kevin Grady of the Trust last year about this and found his view on it inexplicable.

Anyway I was very pleased to hear that the Inspector would not be whitewashed.  I wish I could have been there to see the non verbal aspects of this exchange, but even just with the voices I found it cringeworthy.  Despite having come to know Mr Walker over several days of evidence and seen that he is a man who has the kind of arrogance which looks down on others who do not hold the same views as he does, I couldn’t help feeling some degree of empathy and embarrassment for him as he was hauled over the coals.  But I guess he probably doesn’t have that empathic ability himself, so I probably shouldn’t mind how he is treated by the Inspector, since he is one of these bullies who wishes to trample all over our local sensibilities and rip the heart out of the best of our community.

I was given positive feedback from those who felt I had made my points about the photomontages effectively, but it wasn’t until I heard the Inspector’s own questions that I realised I had only sounded an introductory blast on the trumpet compared to what he had been building up to with respect to the more than failure to consult, but the positive aversion to it.

A friend asked me afterwards ‘Can we get optimistic now?’  Well I don’t want to go sowing false hope and so I won’t say for sure.  But perhaps to misquote Churchill, ‘This may not be the end, or even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning’. 

I am so proud and happy to be able to bring the witnessing of the truth of what is happening at the Enquiry to the public domain with the recordings (for which I again must repeatedly thank all those wonderful and reliable people who are keeping them cued up when I am absent) in the face of a city council and transport authority who have been derelict of their duty to do so themselves, and the BBC who have kept such a distance from the Enquiry most of the time and failed to report anything of substance.  The institutional and bureaucratic high handedness which ignores the people is being exposed and it is now so obvious that even the government appointed Inspector appears to be joining in and denouncing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment