Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 53

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 53

Tuesday 30th September 2014

Links to audio recordings are here at the top, my commentary on today's proceedings follows below.

In the first morning session of Day 53 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 30th September 2014, Mr Doug Kemp presents evidence on behalf of the North West Leeds Transport Forum, West Park Residents and himself against the NGT proposals.  There is some examination by Neil Cameron QC on behalf of the Applicant and then by the Inspector.

In the late morning session of Day 53 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 30th September 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Planning Studies Peter Bonsall goes through his evidence in chief against the NGT scheme, drawing attention to many flaws in the planning.

In the early afternoon session of Day 53 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 30th September 2014, Emeritus Professor of Transport Planning Studies Peter Bonsall is cross examined on his evidence by Neil Cameron QC on behalf of the Applicant NGT.

In the late afternoon session of Day 53 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Tuesday 30th September 2014 Neil Cameron QC on behalf of the Applicant NGT continues to cross examine Emeritus Professor of Transport Planning Studies Peter Bonsall on his evidence against the trolleybus scheme.

Today the enquiry split into two parts.  The morning sessions in which evidence was given by Doug Kemp and Professor Peter Bonsall on behalf of the West Park Residents and North West Leeds Transport Forum, which was very clear and easy to understand.

In the afternoon, when Mr Cameron set to cross examining Professor Bonsall things got immensely complicated, to the extent that the Inspector by the final session was asking to have something in writing about the formulae behind calculations for funding as he was finding it too complicated to follow.

The tale of how we got from the lucidity of the morning’s evidence to a morass of complexity which barely more than one or two people in the room could follow was one that I had to stand back from for a while to make any sense of.

The local issues around north west Leeds were dealt by Mr Kemp at first, and while there was some hostile examination from NGT’s counsel it was at least comprehensible.

The second session was lucidity itself.  It can be a labour and a chore sometimes listening to more droning on from one side or the other, but Peter Bonsall demonstrated today why he had achieved his position as a Professor of Transport Planning at the University of Leeds. 

It was not just that he had such a long list of failings that NGT is subject to, but the fact that he got it all over in such a clear and simple manner that enabled him to achieve his end.  If you look at the text of the document I published here on my blog yesterday you could see a similarity in content which might suggest his influence.  I couldn’t possibly comment, but I’ll just give a list of some of the points he drew attention to today which go against NGT

Errors in the modelling and judgements inflate the viability of the scheme.  Greenhouse gas emissions would be increased.  The Leeds Traffic Model predicts increase in accidents against the WebTAG guidance that changes should have predictions of fewer accidents.  That it would lead to a reduction in cycling and walking.  That while there were lower times in vehicle for some journeys, this was not broadly enough the case and it instead reduced connectivity such that average door to door times for journeys would be increased.

And so it went on.  The more that Prof Bonsall looked at the case, the more concerned he had became.  New evidence in the enquiry has reinforced his concern.

Today he had measured the lifts in the Regus building and told us that the passenger density of NGT at full capacity would have the lift of just over two square meters carrying 17 people.  Clearly this is absurd.  Or at least to some of us it is.

He cited that the lack of seating was the single most important issue and then this led into the whole business of models, predictions, traffic flows and so forth.  Dry stuff, but it was easily followed, succinct and gave a good overview while at the same time cramming in quite a large amount of hard detailed data.  If you only listen to one of today’s sessions I would highly recommend today’s from the late morning.

The afternoon sessions flow out of it, so you have to have that under your belt anyway, but I can’t tell you the afternoon is easy listening.  I lost the thread on it numerous times, and this was the part where the Inspector admitted that he found it rather complicated.

There was a lot of talk about the people at the DfT and what their position was on all the evidence they had been given of the business case, whether they properly understood what had been put to them by Metro, a concern raised by Peter Bonsall, or whether as Mr Cameron suggested, they fully understood it and thought it fine.  He had begun his cross examination by asking the Professor if he had ever made a business case, to which he had to reply in the negative, but we have to ask if Mr Cameron has spent a lifetime studying transport and the planning that is necessary for it.  Barristers such as he and Mr Jones are extremely sharp and able people, proficient in taking instructions on data that they have to digest and present as an argument on very short notice, but they are of necessity generalists, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to ply their trade.

It may be the case that he bogged the Enquiry down with quibbles about government funding procedures and statistical models that only a competent mathematician could grasp, but this was all to take us away from the clear evidence which Peter Bonsall had given in his evidence.

I would suggest that to quibble over the percentage points of mathematical formulae is a distraction when you have overriding matters such as that the passenger demand estimates were clearly being exaggerated, the fact that most people like to have a seat, that prioritising traffic lights would cause congestion for other road users and the like and so on and so forth.  Much as I love the heritage and mature trees in Headingley I don’t think I heard them mentioned once, demonstrating that this is so much more than the condescending ‘nimbyism’ we are too often accused of.  Frankly, this is a bad scheme, badly conceived, on the wrong route, with massively disproportionate overheads (if you will pardon the dreadful pun).

There seemed to be a lot of critical examination from Mr Cameron, but it was not clear what any of it achieved, although I imagine it was designed to trick or catch out the Professor into betraying himself with some huge clanger.  The Inspector actually said something about how he was probably the only person in the room who actually understood a particular point.  And he could well have been correct.

The opinion amongst several of the objectors afterwards that this was mostly a filibuster by Mr Cameron having to spend some time earning his keep.  Perhaps there is some great master plan which will become clear, or perhaps he is clutching at straws.  If we are left down to who understands the detail better, I would lay my own money on the man who has not only spent his life studying this stuff, but has also carried out many research studies and been consultant to government transport committees and so forth.  For NGT’s counsel to try to discredit him as in some way, inexperienced, or out of his depth, or not in full grasp of the modelling, the procedures, the targets etc etc is a risky strategy as it could quite possibly just demonstrate the solidity and sense of Peter Bonsall’s position, like a furious wave crashing down to break on a lighthouse rock, only to fade away into nothingness.

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