Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry
Wednesday 1st October 2014
Recordings of each session of the proceedings are linked here and I make some commentary about the ongoing positions below.
In the first morning session of Day 54 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 1st October 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.
In the late morning session of Day 54 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 1st October 2014 Neil Cameron QC on behalf of the Applicant NGT concludes his cross examination of Emeritus Professor of Transport Planning Studies Peter Bonsall on his evidence against the trolleybus scheme. This is then followed by the Inspector who asks a number of questions of his own.
In the early afternoon session of Day 54 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 1st October Chris Longley of the Federation of Small Businesses presents his evidence and there is some cross examination from the Inspector.
In the late afternoon session of Day 54 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 1st October cases are given against the NGT scheme by Mr Graham Lauder and Mrs Susan Sleeman, both long term residents of Leeds 6.
Today’s sessions began with the continuation of the war of attrition between Mr Cameron and Professor Bonsall.
To be honest I do find some of this stuff rather opaque to my own personal skills, but even that tells me something. As a former teacher I’m a great believer that things should be able to be expressed in forms which can be easily understood, building from general overviews to more detail once the foundation has been established.
In his own evidence Peter Bonsall gave some very clear and simple views on key features of the NGT proposals which should be obvious to any layperson who gives them more than a casual glance, and he is able to support these views with evidence, WebTAG guidance and so forth.
When it comes to cross examination, the feeling amongst many of the objectors was that Mr Cameron went into such realms of obscurity that even the Inspector was challenged at times, as were most of the objectors.
One would have thought that demonstrating seriously flawed methodologies with consultation, (the absurd comparison of old and super modern buses apparently justifying a trolley system), modelling (Mr Hanson’s 50% variability of predicted use at Bodington) and on and on would have been enough, but Mr Cameron goes into endless detail which one has to question the relevance of.
One thing I do understand the relevance of is his continually returning to the assumption that since the DfT has allowed the scheme to get this far then it must already have received enough scrutiny to allow it to go further. He seems almost to be attempting to back the Inspector into a corner where he can’t recommend against NGT because he would be going against the wishes of the Department.
If so, why have we had to go through the process of the Public Enquiry? There doesn’t seem to be an official figure on how much it will have cost by the time it is over in another month of so, but it must be a substantial amount, and I heard the figure of £4million mentioned the other day which wouldn’t seem unreasonable for the hire of the suite at the Regus Building, paying the Inspector and seemingly dozens of NGT wonks who come and go on the Applicant’s side of the room, not least Neil Cameron QC. Silks don’t come cheap and guesses at how much he might be getting paid (on Leeds taxpayers’ tab) can be based on the following ‘The 10 to 15 percent [of barristers who are] Queen's Counsel earn on average in excess of £250,000 a year.
I don’t know if they fit into the following category ‘Barristers doing Chancery, commercial and other specialist work have incomes twice as great as those working in criminal or family law do.’ But it seems possible. So he may be on as much as £1,000 a day, and then he has his junior Mr Walton, who I understand is not Silk but nonetheless is probably getting what most of us would consider a bundle.
Then there are all the NGT witnesses and backroom people who have prepared all the documents (the late submitted Heritage Doc B-13 was massive and the printing alone would have cost several thousand I am reliably informed by a contact I have in the printing industry).
Of course the objectors, amongst them First West Yorkshire bus company, have to pay their own way. You can imagine that the Directors of First would have quite a grudge on with WYCA (formerly Metro), not only for making a seriously hostile attempt to destroy their business and making unsubstantiated claims that they had been unco-operative, but also for having to spend probably a million or more on their own case merely to defend themselves from sharp and biased business practice. In fact, not only is the proposed prioritised scheme probably illegal in enforcing a preferential two tier system, but it is now well understood that WYCA wants to increase its political control over public transport providers and get into the game of becoming a provider itself.
If they were to be successful with the NGT bid, we have been told that they would want to follow it with a roll out of trolleybuses on several other routes in Leeds and eventually throughout West Yorkshire. With a price tag of at least £28m per mile and vehicles costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, when this would be the only trolleybus system in the UK, that would be a dangerous path to follow.
One thing that has struck me for a while, is that trying to put a trolleybus line through the Conservation Area ‘string of pearls’ that stretches unbroken from the University to the ring road is setting themselves a very difficult task in terms of planning, whereas the Kirkstall Road, the A65, is already wide enough for such a scheme at least in the parts where it approaches the city centre, would connect easily into Wellington Street for the station, and an extension to Bradford would make more sense if it were established along the link road between the two cities beyond Horsforth.
Not that I am in favour of such a scheme, but it certainly would have fewer hurdles to jump than one up the A660, through the ‘jewel in the crown of Leeds’ as it was described by the Chair of the Planning Committee some years ago, who also said at the time that Headingley should have everything done to protect it.
So why are they attempting this unsuitable route?
Some readers may know of the story of Wentworth Woodhouse, one of our finest stately homes, which had Coal Board strip mining to within a hundred yards or so of the frontage in the post war period. The man responsible was Manny Shinwell who it is strongly believed by many simply wanted to put the owners in their place and let them know who was boss. The need for coal can’t have been so desperate that they couldn’t look elsewhere for a few tons of the stuff (I was brought up in the ’60s with the mantra that Britain had enough coal underground for 400 years, and the deeper stuff is often much better than the shallow open cast material) so it is not unreasonable in my view to agree with the position that Mr Shinwell had another agenda, one which the Labour Party were not ashamed of at the time. I speak of course of bringing down the hoity toities.
Or as Cllr Richard Lewis said to me after the Headingley public meeting about the trolleybus scheme last year ‘never think you can have progress without doing some damage’. Nice excuse. However it is one which conveniently ignores the fact that different people have different values and what some might do with gusto is what others would consider vandalism.
So it would seem to me that a significant part of the thinking behind this is that if they can break the will of the independently minded residents of the A660 route and achieve the degradation of the finest extended route through Leeds, then implementing a further series of connecting routes would be made a great deal easier, one might almost consider inevitable.
During the eighties and nineties I considered myself solid Labour but I see things differently after Mr B.Liar decided it was a good idea to get involved in a war without end, and on a local basis our own Council have been behaving in the draconian manner that we see exemplified by the way the have attempted to ram NGT down our throats, and Councillors such as John Illingworth get suspended for doing things that they didn’t even know was against party policy. (Not that I have any preference to other parties I should add.)
I hope I shan’t alienate some of my more left leaning readers, but it has become plain that largely as the instrument of Leeds City Council, WYCA is attempting to pursue a very undemocratic and far left policy, not only of looking for more involvement in transport, but much more dramatically and importantly, to do down the successful private sector company that provides such a good service to passengers on the A660, while at the same time putting those smug well heeled types with their nice heritage in their place.
The manner in which they have attempted to foist this on the taxpayers of Leeds has involved seriously flawed and even manipulated consultations, repeatedly making claims which aren’t even in their case (reduction of traffic congestion, which they actually admit would probably get worse due to the delays to other traffic caused by trolleybus prioritisation at junctions) and repeating these false or dubious claims until the most sceptical listener could be forgiven for repeating them in their sleep.
Just as Mr Haskins went back to the WYCA meeting last week to tell them that all was hunky dory at the enquiry (I assume they don’t wish to flatter me by bothering to actually listen to the evidence themselves online and thereby admit privately to themselves that they should have provided some kind of recording or transcript) their more low level lackeys continue the propaganda war in the response columns in the Yorkshire Evening Post. Principle amongst these must be the gentleman (I’m trying to be polite here) who styles himself ‘oldsyphilitic’ and routinely posts replies to news items or letters concerning the trolleybus. Endlessly churning out his cyclic tropes about ‘naysayers’ and how we don’t know what a good thing we are on to, besides which we “will” (his neurolingistic attack on our assumptions that it could be rejected) get to love it when it is, or rather, would be, on our streets. Perhaps I should mention that he is a Bradford resident and therefore is not making a case at the enquiry.
He never of course makes considered responses to issues raised or points made, he just goes on about us naysaying ‘nimbies’. A term I cordially despise since that too is more neurolingistics aimed at undermining our local sense of value in our mature heritage community. Of course, you shouldn’t care about your own community, that’s selfish. We can’t be allowed to defend our social cohesion and environment which contributes to a good quality of life and encourages community spirit. No ~ to be a good sheep we have to sacrifice everything to the great god of the State. These nihilist sneers seek to degrade the sense of local identity and pride in human value.
And are repeatedly churned out, again and again and again.
So this is truly turning into a propaganda war. And as in all such wars, the facts, or even the truth are to some of no importance. Just as in Orwell’s 1984, the perception is everything, there is no truth, only what the party designates to currently be the line.
Meanwhile, the Public Enquiry grinds on with ever deeper condemnations of the flawed methodologies, vague estimates, unjustified views and now a continuous stream of outraged private objectors saying that they have not been properly consulted and that it would be expected to seriously damage a high proportion of small businesses along the route.
All of which should have been properly and formally put in the public domain with Council or WYCA funded daily podcasts, streaming and transcripts, all cheap and readily available services which can now be put online. So if we as the objectors group were not co-ordinating the public uploading of our own recordings to demonstrate what has really been coming out of the enquiry examinations, no-one, that is NO-ONE who had not been present would really know one way or the other what was going on except by casual word of mouth or private correspondence.
This is frankly iniquitous and is, for me at least, the single biggest condemnation of the whole process. The false assertions made by NGT would continue to be bandied about and what could people do to rebut them other than to say ‘Well my friend was there and told me that such and such was established’. If it is not properly in the public domain it didn’t happen in the eyes of many, and that is how our wonderful, supposedly democratic political leaders want it.
As a lighter aside, I’d like to briefly draw attention to my spelling, which a colleague who is a former English teacher mentioned to me. My own spelling of ‘Enquiry’ in particular, as opposed to the official Public Inquiry spelling. I began using my own spelling with an ‘E’ since that is the one I was brought up with. A few day into the ‘Inquiry’ I noticed the variation between the two, so went hotfoot to my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, (Vol 1) and was relieved to find that both spellings are acceptable. However, for continuity’s sake I have continued using my original spelling on all recording and blog headers.
Anyway, to briefly return to the evidence at the Enquiry, or Inquiry, however you like it, I will just give one last example of how NGT have attempted to pull the wool over our eyes and hoodwink us. One small detail that was winkled out the other day was that the Low Cost Alternative which involved upgrading bus stops (shelters, seats, lights, cctv, real time display) was massively more expensive per stop than the apparent cost for doing it for a trolleybus route. As I understood Professor Bonsall it was the case that they were saying ‘Don’t do that, you won’t get much for your money, but do ours, you’ll get super duper value!’ but the costs were not applied in an equal way and so the comparison was entirely misleading. Again…
I have heard it said that the truth need no defence. On the contrary, I would agree with Churchill when he said that a lie will be half way round the world while the truth is still getting its boots on. The truth is a strong weapon, but it has to be wielded assertively or else it is of little value.
This then is, as are all politics eventually, a psychological war. A war of mindsets, where political ideology and will attempts to triumph over truth and common sense. But with the internet we seem to have come to a point where people no longer feel isolated and disempowered but are prepared to stand up and speak things as they see them, for they realise that they are not alone.