Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 45

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry
Day 45

Tuesday 9th September 2014

(Updated blog 11 Sept 2014)
This was a rather shortened day since the witness who was scheduled for the later sections of the day was unavailable. 

The audio recordings of the two morning sessions are linked here and commentary follows below.

In the first morning session of Day 45 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tues 9th Sept 2014 Mr Max Forni Principal Acoustic Engineer, Mott Macdonald, is cross examined firstly by Mr Walton for the Applicant, NGT and then by Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire on the noise impacts of the development or running of the proposed NGT trolleybus system.

In the late morning session of Day 45 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tues 9th Sept 2014 Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire completes his cross examination of Mr Max Forni Principal Acoustic Engineer, Mott Macdonald, on the noise impacts of the development and running of the proposed NGT trolleybus system.  He is followed by Mr Ian Barraclough on behalf of Headingley Castle and its residents, then Mr Bill McKinnon for Friends of Woodhouse Moor, and finally Mr Walton who re-examines Mr Forni on behalf of NGT.

The extremely brief afternoon session is appended to the audio of the late morning session as it is so short and merely covers ongoing programming update and no examination takes place.

There is a certain amount of interesting discussion in today’s shortened sitting, but I think we should acknowledge that however much evidence might have been covered, it isn’t going to be a game changer on either side.  Mr Jones had a little fun examining the methodology which didn’t seem to take into account the cumulative impacts of the works which would be required to take place and this was followed by Mr Ian Barraclough for Headingley Castle. 

Certainly the residents of the Castle would be some of the people most directly affected both by the required works and the ongoing running of the trolleybus which would pass in front of the residence once every three minutes.  It may be the case that tree planting ‘mitigation’ would eventually reduce that effect, but there would still be the side road which of course would have to be left free, and it could be that the new short densely planted trees would make it more difficult to see the oncoming trolleybus than the existing tall trees through the gaps in the trunks of which it is possible to see a greater distance. 

I recall going on the motorway in the summer break and noticing that mitigating tree planting had been put in place to help shield views of the motorway as well as buffer emissions.  But one thing I realised, since I rarely travel on motorways, was that the views were monotonous and claustrophobic and that there were almost no longer views through to the further landscape.  More a matter for environmental impact than noise impact, but the loss of the magnificent mature tall trees between the Castle and the Telephone Exchange would be a most upsetting experience for the residents. 

The more I look at the issue, the more I am concerned that views of standard trees with gaps through them, such as here or on the Otley Road in, say Far Headingley and West Park, which allow views through and beyond them would be changed in character if the close replanting which is proposed took place, as the claustrophobic ‘corridor’ effect which I experienced on the motorway would be what eventually grows in.

I can’t help feeling that it is just one more of the endless series of impacts which have not been properly assessed.  A silent trolleybus ~ ‘Silent Death’ as Mr McKinnon later reminded us they used to be called ~ could emerge out of the thick wall of undergrowth and be a danger to both pedestrians and vehicles crossing the trolleybus track.  The fact that both visually impaired and hard of hearing people go to special centres behind Headingley Castle was raised, and the dangers to them from very quiet buses mentioned by Mr Barraclough.  It is an accepted fact that trolleybuses have a higher pedestrian death rate than normal buses.

The subject of habituation to the disruption which might be experienced by residents was covered and Mr Jones in his cross examination pointed out that how people feel about the source of the noise or ongoing disruption is a major determiner of how they might acclimatise or not to it.  For instance, if you hear roadworks near where you live, but you understand that they are fixing a pothole filled road surface that you know needs resurfacing, one is unlikely to feel a great deal of annoyance, or not for very long; whereas if something such as the trolleybus is unwelcome and the works for it are destroying your accustomed mature environment, then the sense of intrusion is likely to continue for a much longer time, and indeed even outlive the works themselves, since the material results would be permanent.  Especially if you are a resident in the sheltered housing near Monument Moor whose pleasant views of Woodhouse Moor would be left permanently marred after having to put up with the highly disruptive and destructive building of a trolleybus track along the south side of Woodhouse Lane:  residents who, due to conservation planning constraints are not able to have the protection of double glazing to reduce noise, as is also the case at Headingley Castle.
The safety of the silent or extremely quiet nature of trolleybuses was raised.  It is of course true that they can be fitted with an acoustic warning signal, but there would be a noise nuisance if it were to be used in same place repeatedly, and locations such as Woodhouse Moor and Whitfields are examples of where this might occur.  The residents of the Whitfields would have their lives perpetually disrupted by both the passage of the trolleybus every three minutes as well as the unavoidable klaxon or bell that would be needed for safety warning.  I can't recall if other locations were mentioned, but so called 'shared spaces' such as Millenium Square in front of the Civic Museum and in front of the University Parkinson steps would also be subject to this mixture of danger to pedestrians accompanied by frequent intrusive noise.
The Promoter’s position on all this is that the fine detail cannot be fully predicted at the present time and that all due care would be taken, but as with so many questions around the development of the scheme we surely cannot be expected to take it all on trust, but really need to have it properly detailed in advance.

One has to trust that the Inspector is noting all the shortcomings in the planning of NGT but when you hear the way that he questions some of the witnesses one does have a certain amount of reassurance.  Mr Forni was not made as uncomfortable as some witnesses, but he was rather prone to speaking very quietly, which was unhelpful. Not mumbling like Mr Chadwick, but just so that one had to pay rather close attention to properly hear what he said. However he was by no means the worst witness for NGT.  If you want to hear a contender for that honour I would suggest that you skip ahead to tomorrow’s recordings and listen to Mr Kevin Leather general environmental specialist responsible for production of the Environmental. Statement (ES).  The fact that his cross examination will probably run to at least three times the length of that undergone by Mr Forni is indicative of the much greater importance in the greater scheme of the Environmental Statement.  I will leave you to judge the Inspector’s tone with Mr Leather, but one of my co-objectors commented that he, the witness, would have probably gone home and had a stiff gin after being roasted over the coals for the whole day in the manner that he was.

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