Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 41

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 41

 Tuesday 2nd September 2014

The Enquiry resumed today after the summer break.  The greater part of the day was taken up with the completion of the examination of Mr Steve Speak on the matter of planning issues around the NGT proposals.  When that had been completed the final session was given over to the first witness for the Objectors, Mr Chris Cheek, a gentleman with a lifetime’s experience working in transport, who presented his evidence in chief.

Audio recordings  of all five of today’s sessions are linked below and I follow with this with some commentary on both the day’s proceedings and other matters around the trolleybus proposals and enquiry.

In the first morning session of the Day 41 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 2nd September 2014, the Enquiry resumes after the summer break with Gregory Jones QC, for First (Bus) West Yorkshire cross examining Mr Steve Speak who is representing Leeds City Council on Planning matters concerning the NGT trolleybus proposals.

In the late morning session of Day 41 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 2nd September 2014 Gregory Jones QC continues to cross examine Mr Steve Speak on Planning considerations regarding the NGT scheme, in this session concentrating on planning guidelines around heritage assets and damage to them.

In the early afternoon session of Day 41 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 2nd September 2014 Gregory Jones QC concludes his cross examination of Mr Steve Speak on Planning considerations regarding the NGT scheme.

In the brief mid afternoon session of Day 41 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Mr Steve Speak concludes his session as witness when he is re-examined by Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant NGT.

In the late afternoon session of Day 41 of the Leeds  Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Public Transport expert Mr Cheek gives his evidence in chief for First West Yorkshire and is then cross examined by Gregory Jones QC.

Today dealt with a lot of technical detail about planning policy such as Core Strategy, the Unitary Development Plan and how the Heritage policies affected the preservation of heritage along the route.

It took a little while to work into the detail and implications of these, so the reader may wish to get the detail from the recordings, but there were several points which I picked out which seemed problematic for the Applicant.

These not only clustered around conflicts with established policies and so forth, but I would suggest that the credibility of the witness was to some extent brought into question.

For instance, Mr Speak didn’t know that the ‘Stated Preference Test’ had produced a result of ‘no stated preference for tbus’.  He couldn’t recall being told this or not by his team.  One would have thought that a planner responsible for overseeing a scheme like this would at least have looked at the passenger preferences and how they might factor into the viability of the proposals, but apparently not.

A similar shortcoming was apparent with regard to the harm that Mr Philip Ward (Heritage) had admitted would be caused to listed structures, and which was against the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guidelines which recognised statutory protection for listed buildings.  He was obliged to consider the conflict with Heritage policies in UDP but had to admit that he hasn’t carried out a review of that conflict.

Again and again from Mr Speak we have heard how he likes to take everything ‘in the round’ or with a ‘rounded view’.  This seems to be his stock fall back phrase, just as previous witnesses have repeatedly ‘taken a view’ (I think that was Mr Hanson) or ‘made the judgement that’ (Mr Haskins if I recall correctly).  He seems to constantly want to stand back and look at The Big Picture and not be concerned with the details, the contraventions of guidelines, agreed policies on heritage and the like.

This has consistently been a characteristic of the NGT case, in which the proponents have deviated from WebTAG guidance for instance (Mr Hanson again) but in no way will acknowledge that this is an improper way to proceed.

A little debate that blew for a while between Mr Jones and Mr Speak was about the question of whether NGT could really be considered ‘rapid transport’ as it tries to portray itself.  One admires the research team who winkle out such details as the fact that in August 2013, just a year ago (when the scheme was already in the pipeline for a TWAO application), the word ‘fast’ was removed from the ‘vision statement for NGT’ by Chairman of Metro Kieran Preston.

If the chief executive of Metro finds it necessary to remove such an important word as ‘fast’ then one might assume that the word ‘rapid’ would also be inapplicable, being synonyms.

Mr Speak tried to insist that despite not being fast it was, nonetheless ‘rapid’; however, it wouldn’t need the scalpel like precision of Mr Jones’s analytic technique to see that while the ‘Vision’ document claimed that it may be ‘key to create a Rapid Transport system’ (in their view) nonetheless even that document did not claim that it was a ‘rapid’ system itself.  In other words, the document put it forward as part of a jigsaw, rather than the whole picture when it came to a rapid transport system.

This touched on the issue of interconnectivity, which was discussed in more detail by Mr Cheek later.  However, Mr Speak was reluctant to acknowledge what seemed as plain as a pikestaff, that something which might contribute to an overall rapid transport system but which was not ‘fast’ could neither be ‘rapid’ either.

As to whether the overall system would end up being rapid ~ well you would need to have it integrated systematically into the other transport systems (buses, train stations) in Leeds for that to work, especially as the trolleybus itself would not be ‘fast’ ~ Mr Cheek in his evidence in chief pointed out that although interconnectivity has been a concept which has been floated since the late 1970s, nonetheless, NGT had given no evidence that they had actually done any work on making their system interconnective. 

In other words, if I may be so bold, it would seem to me that the ‘Vision’ that the trolleybus would be part of a ‘rapid transport system’ was a load of spin that they had no intention of making any attempt at actualising.  One is reminded also of the fact that great store has been placed on the separateness of the NGT system from others, especially buses which it would not share the same stops with, and so would be distinctly uninterconnective.

Along the way he had managed to claim that congestion on the A660 would only get worse if NGT was not implemented, while it has actually been admitted earlier that it would probably create more congestion as a result of priority lanes and ‘traffic stacking’.

One last point which came up before Mr Speak’s examination was over, was among a short series of questions put by the Inspector, Mr Whitehead.  He asked whether the witness had taken into account that Monument Moor was the start of the famous Dales Way, an ancient pathway.  Mr Speak was apparently unaware of this, and it was clear from the Inspector that he considered that he should have been.

I am sure that this will be gratifying to Mr Bill McKinnon and the Friends of Woodhouse Moor, whom he has represented at the enquiry, since he has drawn a lot of attention to Monument Moor, which has been shamefully neglected by Leeds City Council over the years, in what one might suspect is a cynical ploy to reduce the value of this historic piece of land in the eyes of local citizens order to make it easier for them to take part of it for a trolleybus lane.

Moving on to the evidence in chief of Mr Chris Cheek for First West Yorkshire, you will find the expert testimony of a gentleman who has spent his whole adult working life engaged with transport issues.  He has sat behind Mr Jones for most of the enquiry so far and has clearly had his mind well focussed on the issues.

He brought into question just about every aspect of the NGT scheme that I could think of.  Most particularly he asserted that the passenger estimates were not realistic.  I am reminded of how we were told some while back one of the witnesses had said that the passenger journey estimates for the original scheme, that included a route to St James’s and Seacroft, which had been in the region of six or seven million per annum had roughly been doubled to about twelve million or so when the eastern spurs had been dropped.  I may only be a layperson, but my maths is good enough to know that  something there doesn’t add up.  And Mr Cheek seemed to think that estimates of such matters had been exaggerated.

Moving on to the logistics of implementation, it would be ‘cumbersome’ and immensely expensive to introduce the infrastructure, and we were reminded that the introduction of further routes would each require a TWAO before they could be implemented (the spectre of further public enquiries loomed over the chamber), while a new bus route or service could be put in place at 56 days notice.  He brought attention to the fact that bus services such as the 28 and 97 might not be able to survive and so the residents of Weetwood and Adel could be without a bus, or at least suffer reduced frequency of service.

Again and again the flimsy justifications of the NGT consultants were brought down, as Mr Cheek identified that scores of trolleybus schemes around the world were being closed, and even such places as Wellington (longest running trolleybus system in the world) were abandoning them.  The ‘visual pollution’ of the overhead lines was even being reviewed by Geneva, who are about to trial more flexible quick charging buses.

If you want to know more about why the tide is turning away from trolleybuses you could do worse than listen to the final session of today’s recordings.

While on the subject of the recordings, I should say that there may be slight delays in the posting of these important documents over the next few weeks, which without disclosing the trade secrets as to how we make them, I will simply say is down to the logistics of the matter.  However, our dedicated team of Objectors are determined to take down every word that is uttered at the Public Enquiry, or at least as near as is humanly possible, and we shall get them posted on the mixcloud site as quickly as we can.

As the value of these recordings becomes ever greater, I have heard many objectors say how disgraceful it is that neither NGT nor the Council have made any effort to compile a public record, and we are astonished that the Inspector does not have a secretary or stenographer to make a written record.  Neither is there any reporter from the media routinely assigned to even make a précis for public consumption.  In the event, the Objectors' recordings, which I have the privilege to manage, are the only document of all this on the public record.  This behaviour on the part of Metro and LCC would seem to me to be an attempt to stifle awareness of these important proceedings.  However, the powers that like to think they are cannot stifle the truth in the information age.

Well there is a lot more I could add about yesterday’s proceedings and the ongoing campaign to stop the trolleybus but I have probably written enough for today so I shall leave you until the next time.

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