Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 2

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 2  

 April 30 2014

Today felt like a good day for the Stop The Trolleybus campaign.  The Enquiry got down to business with the cross examination of the first witness, Mr Martin Farrington, Chief Development Officer for Leeds City Council who has taken a major role in the development and promotion of the Applicant’s scheme, New Generation Transport trolleybuses.

Gregory Jones QC for First West Yorkshire tore into Mr Farrington and elicited such extraordinary pieces of information as that when he took up his current post and began to promote a trolleybus scheme, he had never actually reviewed the pros and cons of the Supertram which had been cancelled a few years before, or that he had only found out yesterday about the 1999 Liverpool Public Enquiry into what had been a proposal of a trolleybus development there, but which had been rejected by the Inspector and the then Secretary of State. (I had heard about that perhaps a year ago.)

The Cross examination went on for most of the day but the first session was the most impressive.  It can be heard on this recording which a colleague kindly made on my Zoom H2 audio recorder.

Exposed and highlighted were the facts that this would be the only trolleybus scheme in the England and the only right hand drive one in the world, suggesting major problems for future supply of parts and vehicles, and that it was projected as having a lifetime of at least sixty years, or more.

Mr Farrington was forced to admit that he didn’t know how much Leeds City Council had spent already on the development costs ~ I have heard the figure of five millions more than once in the media.

Again and again he was obliged to acknowledge that he hadn’t read documents relating to the case and that he hadn’t even written all of his own statement himself.

It is quite staggering to consider that this man is a civil servant responsible to the citizens of Leeds, and yet holds immense power in planning decisions, being behind many shopping malls and similar developments.  This is the face of the unaccountable bureaucrat, and it is good to see it exposed to the light of day.

One has to wonder how we got into such a position, but it has to be acknowledged that the public has paid too little attention for too long to what bureaucracy and government get up to while we are getting on with our lives.  To discover that this kind of fiasco has been planned behind our backs is a rude awakening.

But the good news is that residents and institutions all along the proposed route have stood up and said NO to this thing that would be inefficient, expensive and destructive to our beautiful city. 

The next step after the Enquiry has been won must be to scrutinise the decision making of the networks of people in the Council who have been running things for the last few years.  How a scheme as inappropriate and outdated as a trolleybus could even come up on the agenda is a question that needs to be asked. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Begins 29 April 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Begins 

29 April 2014

The long expected Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry began today.  I shan't be giving a blow by blow account of what was said as you can listen to my audio recordings of the three sessions on my Mixcloud site.


But some lay commentary may give an impression about it.

I dare say that this kind of thing can seem rather impenetrable to many people with all the formalities.  There have been so many stages of comments and objections that one can feel lost in the detail.

An important entry point for some will be the fact that the first opportunity to feedback on what they thought of this proposed trolleybus scheme came with the ‘Consultation Events’ of which there were about 18, held from late 2012 through to the late summer of 2013 at community centres and church halls along the route of the proposed trolleybus from Holt Park to Stourton.

A great deal of concern has been generated by the refusal of NGT and Leeds City Council to release transcripts of the several hundred comments and emails which these generated, on what many believe are spurious grounds, as detailed by Chris Foren of the A660 Joint Council of community associations along the northern part of the route, to be heard at the beginning of the second recording linked above.

One rather throwaway remark that was made to this was that those people who filled in feedback forms at consultation events could have made formal objections if they had wanted to.

This is to almost entirely ignore the immense and complex nature of the task involved in entering a formal complaint into a process such as this.  One’s objection has needed to be entered a total of three times.  Firstly a formal objection had to be entered by a certain date beyond which it would be rejected.  Then a detailed Statement of Case had to be returned, again by a fixed date, this time with documents of supporting evidence for one’s objection.  Finally, a ‘Proofs of Evidence’ case had to be returned condensing the entire case into 1,500 words, and including printouts of all documents, each requiring four copies.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that at each stage the Secretary of State for Transport as well as the solicitors for the Applicant (NGT) have had to be copied in.

I have run through two printer cartridges and at least half a block of printer paper in this process, not to mention that each bundle of documents has cost several pounds to send in the post.

Four of my friends have asked me to represent their cases for them because they have felt that they didn’t have the time or expertise to engage with such a lengthy and detailed process which required such sustained attention.

I myself have been fortunate enough to receive a higher education at Leeds University, and yet still find myself feeling quite overawed by the magnitude of the task of sustaining an objection through this level of complexity.

It is no surprise to me that many people feel hopelessly bewildered and disempowered by such a process, and may feel that they system is institutionally geared to a form of discourse which is impenetrable to all but a few.

My own personal feeling is that Leeds City Council has played this game in a cynical attempt to dominate the people of Leeds.  The withholding of the public responses is a first step to disempower the people by attempting to silence their voice. 

The refusal to allow the Leeds City Council online streaming facilities to be used for the Public Enquiry is a disgrace.  The equipment is hardly used in the Council Chamber even ~ there have been several occasions that I have been aware of when planned webcasts of debates have failed to go out due to ‘technical issues’.

When something like the Public Enquiry comes along which really merits a webcast the bigwigs of Leeds City Council are to be imagined sitting on their hands whistling.  They don’t want the Public Consultation responses to be in the public domain, and they don’t want the proceedings of the Public Enquiry into the proposed NGT Trolleybus scheme to be in the public domain either.

Excuses are made by Leeds City Council that the documents are available in the City Library and online, but there is no substitute for actually listening to people explain and debate the issues.  And many people find this a much more accessible way to engage with what is quite complex material.

In the digital age audio or even video documentation and broadcasting of events in the public domain is so inexpensive and simple that anyone can do it.  And so we have.  If Leeds City Council and Metro will not act with honour and make the proceedings widely available in at least an audio webcast format, then we, the Objectors will, and already have begun to, as evidenced by the recordings of today’s sessions linked to above.   I also appreciate the assistance of other objectors in performing the technical duties involved in making these recordings.

The arrogant disdain with which Leeds City Council, or at least the Executive Board and the top Civil Servants, treat the public and the City at large is no longer to be tolerated.  We must remember that these people are Public Servants, and they should not act as if they were our masters who own the City.  They only hold it in trust for the people.  The party whip scandal is a further example of the way that a few have attempted to impose their will on the entire city, even when it is known that many Councillors, of all parties, are against the proposals.

I shan’t here go into the moral decrepitude of Councillors who don’t have the backbone to vote on their conscience over the largest issue of infrastructure and planning issue for Leeds since the early seventies.

A few at the top would impose this insane folly and attempt to get away with it by withholding information and misleading the public as to the truth of the strength of feeling.  Divide and conquer.

A united front to these vandals who want to destroy our beautiful city is the only way forward, and disseminating information about it as widely as possible, which we shall hopefully be able to continue to do in making these audiocasts of the Public Enquiry.