Monday, 13 October 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 61

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 61

Friday 9th October 2014

Links to the audio recordings for the day are included here and commentary follows below.

In the first morning session of Day 6 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Friday 9th Oct 2014, Mr Stuart Natkus on behalf of Morley House Trust (LGHS) and other local Statutory Objectors, gives their cases against the NGT proposals.

In the late morning session of Day 6 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Friday 9th Oct 2014, Mr Stuart Natkus on behalf of Morley House Trust (LGHS) and other local Statutory Objectors, completes their cases against the NGT proposals and Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant begins his cross examination.

In the afternoon session of Day 6 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Friday 9th Oct 2014, Mr Stuart Natkus is cross examined by Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant NGT as well as by the Inspector.

As week 15 ground to a close, and the Enquiry has now extended to over twice the length originally anticipated (by NGT I should hasten to add), we saw Mr Stuart Natkus for the statutory objectors along Headingley Lane and on Headingley Hill present his case against the trolleybus scheme, or at least against a lot of details which are part of it.

I have a little joke I make about Mr Natkus, for which I hope he will forgive me.  Doubtless my readers will know the saying ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’.  And Mr Natkus, or at least the clients whom he is representing, are enemies of NGT.  So in this he is our friend.  However life is never simple.  While, of necessity, their case is made on as many technical heritage grounds as can be found, and they are essentially restricted to objections around the properties which they own, their prime objective must be to minimise the impact on those properties. 

And several of those properties have highly contentious developments pending in one way or another.  If the trolleybus doesn’t go ahead then there is still the application to build on the fields which are currently grazed by horses.

And clearly the old Leeds Girls’ High School site which is the principle property that is being defended has great development potential and has failed to realise this because of the planning blight which has hung over it for so long.  Desirable residences could be established in several of the old buildings, but the question of whether a slice of land would be taken from the northern edge of it along Headingley Lane has been the problem.

However, for a good many of the objectors, what was already a complicated local heritage and development issue is made a great deal more so because of the proposed building development on the Victoria Road playing fields site which is attached to this.  And Mr Natkus is involved with this highly controversial issue which has raised questions in the minds of local residents about the planning decision to build on a green field in such a heavily built up area.

And so, while the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in the particular context of the Trolleybus Enquiry, at the same time he is our enemy, as he is working for the interests who would cause this asset of green space to be lost forever as well as quite possibly the field on Headingley Hill.

The subjects of his evidence were fairly predictable if you have heard his cross examinations of some of the witnesses, focussing on the question of whether it would not be better and more practicable to leave out the proposed segregated cycle track on Headingley Lane, and leave any road widening to the northern, uphill side of the road.  He also concentrated on arguing that if widening were to take place on the southern side (his clients side) that the old Design Freeze 2 plans should be implemented, only taking a very narrow slice on this section, rather than the 3 to 5 meters of the more recent Design Freeze 7.  Interestingly, this is the same preference for DF2 as Mr Barraclough had for the grounds around Headingley Castle a few days, earlier, and when you take into account that both argue for the trolleybus track to go in the defile now occupied by St Columba’s church car park, and that that should be relocated to the adjacent part of the field now currently grazed by horses, (proposed for the ‘pocket park’) it seems not impossible that they might have co-ordinated their cases.  Which they are entitled to do.  Clearly First West Yorkshire and the Leeds College of Art have done the same thing in that they are employing the same counsel, and it cannot have been out of their ken that this would make a stronger and more comprehensive case.

And so quite possibly with the owners of these other pieces of land such as the Roman Catholic Diocese, Hinsley Hall and Headingley Properties and Headingley Castle.  They would almost be fools not to organise some pincer attack.

One thing I do wonder about though, is whether by offering the kinds of alternatives that they do, they are trying to impress on the Inspectors the severe limitations of the proposed trolleybus route, especially through this heritage rich zone on Headingley Hill.

I’m thinking here of the, in my own view at least, unworkable idea of widening Headingley Lane on the north side.  It would be one thing to build up the south side where the hill falls away in order to create a new carriageway, an ugly and destructive proposal, but one which would be possible in engineering terms.  However, to cut away several meters of land on the north side for this purpose creates a serious regrading problem from the very steep side roads such as Cumberland Road, Grosvenor Road and the listed Ashwood Villas, amongst others.

There are listed buildings, structures and walls on both sides of the road and it is so rich, despite the run down nature of some parts, that I am frankly staggered at the audacity of Metro in attempting to pull such a road widening off.  Perhaps we should remember Councillor Richard Lewis’s remark at the Headingley Public Meeting last summer that this is ‘far more of a Highways scheme than one of public transport’.

They want road widenings is what I read from this.  Cllr Lewis is disingenuous in the extreme in his zealous crusade to implement the NGT scheme, claiming that the need for it is driven by the fact that there is too much traffic on the A660, but he himself was instrumental in helping to seal the deal for the (ghastly) new Victoria Gate development (for which we have lost half of our heritage in Eastgate) which has an increase of some 375 car parking spaces for shoppers who wish to bring their cars into the city centre.

Mr Martin Farringdon, Chief Development Officer for Leeds City Council and the first witness at the Enquiry proudly stated at the beginning of his testimony that one of his recent achievements was his involvement with that very Victoria Gate development.  These two gentlemen work closely in Council, as befits their positions, but they apparently see no contradiction in on the one hand encouraging hundreds more cars into the city centre while at the same time complaining that there are too many cars coming into the city centre and arguing that that is sufficient reason to demand we are subjected to the trolleybus scheme. 

Which, would widen roads, that when the trolleybus had died a doubtless swift and tragic death, could be filled up by the cars of those they have encouraged to park in city centre car parks.

So by defending their own patches on strong technical heritage grounds, the statutory objectors around Headingley Hill represented by Mr Natkus and Mr Barraclough are obliging the Applicant and the Inspectors to look at the fact that if you want to widen roads, the alternatives to those you have designs on are equally fraught in various different ways.  One hopes that they are getting the message that our narrow Victorian streets are not suitable for such a project and would be irrevocably damaged. 

Before I wind up I will just mention something that appears to be good news, and which I will elaborate upon later, but it seems that a witness for Leeds College of Art may be coming to speak.  There has been some uncertainty about this and Mr Jones has suggested that their position was not clear, but we are keeping out fingers crossed that this does not fall through. In the words of the Inspector ‘It doesn’t look like they are going to come to an agreement’ so their witness has been tentatively scheduled for the Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th of October, which if that remains the case must be seen as good news for the Objectors.

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