Thursday, 9 October 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 59

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 59

Wednesday 8th October 2014

Recordings of all sessions from Day 59 are linked here, and I add some commentary below.

In the first  morning session of Day 59 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 8th Oct 2014,  Dawn Carey Jones on behalf of the South Headingley Community Association and herself gives the cases against the NGT trolleybus scheme.  Sue Buckle of the SHCA also supports this case.

In the late morning session of Day 59 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 8th Oct 2014, Dawn Carey Jones on behalf of the South Headingley Community Association and herself completes their cases against the NGT trolleybus scheme. Sue Buckle of the SHCA also supports this case.

In the afternoon session of Day 59 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Wednesday 8th Oct 2014,  Mr Walton for the Applicant NGT and the Inspector cross examine Dawn Carey Jones and Sue Buckle on their cases for themselves and the South Headingley Community Association against the trolleybus scheme.

The Enquiry is now wearing away into the final month, or so we are all hoping.  Even at this late stage the programme is suffering change and reorganisation.  I don’t envy the task of Mr Graham Groom the Programme Officer or his second in command Mrs Joanna Vincent in arranging this.

The loss of Ms Katie Lightbody from this week’s schedule yesterday was something of a blow to the smooth running of the proceedings, but fortunately we were back on track today with the presentation of evidence from Dawn Carey Jones of the South Headingley Community Association, assisted by local resident of some fifty years, Sue Buckle.

My good friend Dawn has appeared on a number of occasions for cross examination of the NGT witnesses, but today she gave her own case.

I always learn something new when she speaks about the area she loves, and indeed which I lived in myself for about a decade before I moved up to West Headingley.

Her case covered a wide range of aspects of the trolleybus scheme, from practical points which the roads engineers and traffic modellers had neglected to pay attention to or had detailed poorly, to the monstrous affront of the consultations which had been almost farcically carried out.

The point of the consultation responses was raised again and we found out that only 45 responses out of some 340 or so were actually supportive of the trolleybus scheme.  Amongst these were general comments that indicated the writer didn’t really know much about it, but just thought that an improvement in public transport would be a good thing.  The majority of the remainder were opposed, and there were many concerned complaints about the consultation process, or about misinformation and the inadequate website etc etc.

This is not only an important point in respect of how it is certainly perceived by objectors that the consultations were biased and highly flawed ~ for instance the appearance of the landscape designs the day after the Plans Panel day in Council last year ~ but indicates that while some people were in favour of the idea in the most general principle, that they didn’t really understand what it was that they were actually supporting.

This is a common and widespread tale.  Former trolleybus supporters are like ex-smokers, more vigorous in their opposition than those who have never been seduced by its lures.  I saw Dr Maurice King, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, local Hyde Park resident and deep green environmentalist, in the audience today.  I recall that when he first heard about the scheme in 2012 he was gung ho for it, but a few weeks later when the subject was mentioned again he didn’t have a good word to say for it.
You can’t blame people for this reaction when they find out any of the many downsides to the trolleybus scheme.

The destruction of the fancy dress shop, the former garage, and the row of shops in the angle of Headingley Lane and Victoria Road is a troubling matter for the small businesses and the local residents who shop there.  I particularly admire Dawn in the way she has stood up to the misrepresentation of these buildings by Metro and the Council.

They are perpetually portrayed as run down, ramshackle, in need of repair, little more than lean tos thrown up and of no importance.

If they have been allowed to become run down, which is a much exaggerated statement (as are so many that NGT makes) it cannot be unrelated to the fact that Metro are the owners of them and through a mixture of their own neglect and the planning blight associated with their uncertain future, there is demonstration of a clear desire if not actual intent to get rid of these buildings.

And yet there are rarely any of them left empty for long.  Low rent premises in such a convenient place for passing trade are hard to come by.  I used to commonly drop into several of these shops when I was around that area. 

The aesthetic value of the shops is also falsely derided by the NGT assessors, who said that the frontages were cheap modern ones, when actually they still have the original Victorian features.  And the description in the Heritage documents says they are early 20th C, when actually documentary evidence exists that they are clearly from at least the 1890s.  These are not the only buildings which have been wrongly dated as 20th C.  Their continued occupancy and use for some 120 years is a testament to their value to the community over the generations.

Leeds City Council and Metro, now WYCA, have no interest or concern for the needs or aspirations of local people.  If they did they would not seek to overwrite their very lives with their own grand designs which will obliterate the history and identity which is an integral part of the genius loci of the place.  Certainly over the last couple of years since I have started to imagine what it was like when the young Professor Tolkien would walk these streets ninety years ago I have been able to see greater value in the surviving legacy of past generations.  A legacy which would be all too casually swept away for the ‘bold initiatives’ and ‘exciting design opportunities’ of people whose only interest seems to be in making their own marks rather than really thinking about the effects they might have on people and place.

The road designs that go with all this are often not even safe.  Ms Jones identified that the loss of railings in front of the LS6 Café for a trolleybus stop would tempt pedestrians to take short cuts across this busy road.  While at the same time putting the trolleybus shelter in front of the café where people sit outside the south facing frontage, and so which would have disbenefits to the business and cause obstruction for people queuing for the trolleybus.  Both would be adversely affected.  If you know this frontage you will know that it is not an appropriate place to be putting a stop for an articulated vehicle, too near by far as it is to the Hyde Park Corner traffic lights and opposite the open end of Victoria Road.

The litany of disregard for heritage and people is added to with their shoddy and inadequate planning and design.  The trouble for NGT is that they have so little to work with and would have to do so much more damage than they already purpose to in order to really make it work, that they are continually faced with having to squeeze through narrow bottlenecks in our Victorian streets, or to simply destroy them and have done.

Mr Walton in his cross examination took the now familiar line trying to suggest that simply getting a witness to agree that some sort of improvement to public transport arrangements on the Headingley Lane would be beneficial is enough to justify the trolleybus.  He tried to pin down Dawn Jones demanding that she offer alternate solutions, but she quite rightly said that she was not an expert and could not make recommendations other than perhaps a tube, but that her view was that the entire concept of the trolleybus was flawed and a bad idea and that it was one idea which should be rejected.

This is what many people have said, not just long term residents who get accused of being ‘nimbys’ (although what is wrong with valuing your community heritage and trying to protect it is not clear to me).  The trolleybus is pretty much the worst of all solutions that might be applied to Leeds traffic issues. 

For the issues go far beyond the A660, and we must see our problems in the broader context of the entire city.  Eviscerating the string of pearls that are the Conservation areas along the A660 is only one more of the political agendas behind the trolleybus, in which community is to be trampled under foot in the stampede for endless economic development which serves none but the large corporate empires.  Meanwhile the slaves are to be trolleybussed into the work pens in the city, standing like cattle, seven to a square meter, through the bulldozed remnants of our communities.      

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