Leeds Trolleybus Inquiry
It is now a year and a day since the Leeds Trolleybus Vehicle System Order Inquiry was completed, or as it is known better to some of us, The Leeds Trolleybus Inquiry.
We understand that the Inspector, Mr Martin Whitehead, did, as promised, duly submit his report to the Secretary of State about the time of the election in May. Some small progress has been made in the removal of the original supremo, Mr Robert Goodwill, from the decision making position, due to his former clearly stated view in favour long before the plans were developed or the Public Inquiry carried out.
Full detail on this story and all other ongoing news in recent times is to be found on the blog page of the Stop The Trolleybus campaign.
But are we any closer to finding out the decision?
Councillor James Lewis still claims that the case for the trolleybus is ‘compelling’, Mr Dave Haskins of NGT has been globe trotting telling the world how Britain is taking the lead in exciting new transport developments with his trolleybus
and a letter to the Telegraph
claims that “There are now as many trolleybus systems running worldwide as there are trams, and Leeds will have such a system in 2020” Perhaps this gentleman knows something we others in the public don’t?
We have often seen the shadowy presence of Tbus, a trolleybus promotional group working here and there in the NGT campaign and this is just the kind of trick that they would pull, hoping that the Minister will chance upon such a letter as he leafs through the papers over his morning coffee. Neurolinguistic and predictive programming are well recognised psychological techniques whereby suggestions are put to recipients of such information which already assume the desired outcomes in veiled ways, couched behind other statements. But this is no more than a convenient lie and doubtless the writer knows it.
Emeritus Professor of Transport Planning Peter Bonsall was quick off the mark in repost.
He and the illustrious Gregory Jones QC took up many fascinating hours last summer picking apart the trolleybus scheme, and demonstrated amongst other things that trolleybus schemes are disruptive to traffic when they do not have fully segregated lanes, as would occur along this route, and that with the new advances in battery bus technology this much more flexible option is to be preferred. This is not to mention even that NGT witnesses admitted it would cause more congestion than at present, and the fact that the business case was brought into serious doubt when the laughable examples of ‘public consultation’ were exposed. You would have to listen to the audio recordings to believe it was possible. Which conveniently, you can do, here. (More on that later.)
Index of which can be found here
So what we have seen in recent time is a war of words to influence the final decision of the Minister, who should really be following the advice of the Inspector.
We as the Objectors felt that it was us, and First West Yorkshire who had the ‘compelling’ case, as the Professor and Mr Jones dismantled the case presented by NGT.
We have been told that a decision may well take until the end of the year, so we should not be impatient, but there are still matters of concern which are at last coming into the light of day.
I was always dissatisfied with the attitude of Leeds City Council, Metro and NGT towards the documentation of the proceedings of the Public Inquiry. It may well be the case, as the Inspector told me more than once, that the recordings which our Objectors group made of all the sessions of the Inquiry, and which I co-ordinated the uploading of on my Mixcloud site
cannot be accepted as an official record of the Inquiry. However, I raised the matter of a formal record of the Inquiry with various different people and they were all adamant that there was to be no official record, neither audio nor a written transcript. Mr Whitehead had no personal secretary and made all his own notes. Perhaps for that he can be thought to have earned his £630 per day, but how can we be sure that every detail he wrote down is correct, if there is no objective record?
It was a matter of some alarm to us in the Objectors group that it was some weeks into the Inquiry before Mr Whitehead apparently became aware that the trolleybus route was not fully segregated. Probably the single most important factor in whether a system such as this would improve or harm the existing state of affairs.
And with Cllr Lewis claiming that the case is ‘compelling’, then we surely must have the compelling points explained to us, since we cannot see them. Besides which, the idea of compulsion is somewhat repugnant, but the pugnacious bully boy of Metro is determined to compel us.
Well, it may be that I in my humble estate was unable to prevail upon Leeds CC or the Inspector to set about the institution of a formal record, but those perhaps more recognised by their positions have set matters in motion which need to be resolved.
Professor Christopher Todd has dug out some information about Public Inquiries which we should all have known before this began, and it has been drawn to the attention of Greg Mulholland, MP for the constituency through which much of the route would travel.
So I have reprised my pursuit of the goal of some recognition of the need for a public record and wrote this to the Yorkshire Evening Post the other day.
There is a debate behind the scenes of the trolleybus inquiry which will not go away.
At the pre-Inquiry meeting last year I asked if an audio recording or video live stream would be made available. Councillor John Illingworth also supported this request, and put it to Leeds CC. At the time I asked the Inspector if it would be acceptable for the public to make recordings, and I was told yes.
When the Inquiry began Cllr Illingworth informed me that LCC claimed it was too expensive and that no recordings would be made.
With the co-operation of concerned Objectors I co-ordinated our own recordings and uploads of this material. Unofficial though these were, they were referred to many, many times during the Inquiry, by the Inspector himself, counsel and witnesses.
The Objectors have always been disappointed that officials of LCC such as James Lewis were dismissive of the need for a public record.
It recently came to my attention that this was the subject of legislation and guidance.
In A Guide to Public Inquiries, put out by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner:
one finds: “RECORDING OF THE INQUIRY 3.11 The proceedings will be recorded so that a transcript can be produced should one be required.”
And when Inquiries Act 2005 was examined in select committee
the importance of “transcripts of evidence” was stressed. Otherwise people “are largely left painfully to acquire such knowledge for themselves.”
It is my understanding that this shortcoming in the lack of official recordings or transcripts has been drawn to the attention of Greg Mulholland, MP, who one hopes will pursue the matter.
Certainly it is unsatisfactory that there should be no official public record of proceedings which ran to 72 days over six months and cost Leeds taxpayers several million pounds.
This has not yet been published, but it is my hope that it will be, and then with the support of an MP there may at last be questions asked of people who need to give better answers than they have in the past.
As one who has long been unhappy with the shilly-shallying of Leeds City Councillors it would not in the least surprise me if the avoidance of the making of a formal public record was somewhere in the back of someone’s mind as a get out if the evidence was required to be subjected to further scrutiny. If it wasn’t, one is left to consider the abject lack of standards that could lead to the expenditure of some £2.6 million pounds on an inquiry into an infrastructure project that would radically transform the areas affected and be expected to run for some 60 years or so, and there is no actual record of the evidence that was given.
This is really crucial. When I approached Cllr Lewis about this, all he was interested in were the documents which NGT entered, and neither did he attend the Inquiry as a witness to be examined on this, nor did he even come to listen to the examinations of others or Objectors evidence. He claims not to have even listened to the recordings online. So he has absolutely no idea of the shortcomings of the scheme as exposed by both the professionals as well as the local amateurs opposed to it.
As a political cynic from way back, forgive me for saying, but this looks like an attempt at a whitewash to me. I can’t speak for the Inspector, perhaps his hands were tied in ways we don’t know, but the dismal disregard for the needs or rights of the local citizenry to even know what was going on at the Inquiry should call the entire bid by Leeds City Council into doubt. The truth fears no investigation, and if the likes of Cllr Lewis and his cronies are so convinced that their case is compelling, they won’t have any difficulties in endorsing the recordings which the Objectors group and I made public for the greater good.
This is all rather reminiscent of how the Inquiry began, when Chris Foren, Chair of the A660 Joint Council requested the release of feedback material which had been given at consultation events. The NGT team resisted for a short time, but clearly their counsel, the erudite Neil Cameron QC will have prevailed upon them to release this material, which they did before long.
This is a much larger body of material to transcribe, but if they are so convinced of their case, I hope they won’t mind spending a little bit more of our Council Tax on making it available, or at least endorsing the recordings (which were made at our own expense), so that the material can be recognised for what it is, the only truly objective record of the proceedings of the trolleybus inquiry, and be open to scrutiny by a wider public.
It is as I have said, the Truth Fears No Examination. I do not fear the forensic examination of these recordings, either technically to verify that they have not been altered beyond the needs of enhancement of audibility (as I stated in an affidavit document to the Inquiry), nor in their spoken contents. It is perhaps this latter which the august Councillors who propose the NGT scheme fear, and why they would prefer that there were no objective record, but only their quips and soundbites, which find no support in the actual evidence as presented to the Inquiry.
This is an exercise in transparency. Will LCC and Metro come clean?