Between 1937 and the 1980s, Leeds City Council’s Highways Department came forward with one unsuccessful proposal after another for a Headingley Bypass.
In the early 1990s, it was proposed to re-introduce trams to Leeds. The Highways Department saw this as an opportunity to get government money to build the Headingley Bypass and so this was included as part of the scheme, known as Supertram.
In 2005, Alistair Darling refused to provide the money for Supertram. He said it was too expensive, and the same benefits could be provided by a high quality bus system.
Following this, Metro was lobbied by Tbus to adopt a trolleybus scheme. Tbus is comprised of transport professionals and trolleybus enthusiasts. Dave Haskins, Metro’s trolleybus project director, admits to having met Tbus several times and to going to them when he needs advice. He claims that the group has no financial interest in Leeds getting a trolleybus system. But Eqdigital, a company belonging to Tbus member Ashley Bruce, was awarded the contract by Metro to produce all the digital imaging necessary to promote the trolleybus scheme.
As early as 2007, it was clear that Metro was intent on pursuing an application for a trolleybus system, even though alternatives had not been considered and no consultation had been carried out. The advantage to Metro of a trolleybus system was that it required a Transport and Works Act Order, which would give Metro control of the system (rather that a private operator).
When details of the scheme were released in 2009, it included a Headingley Bypass. This was unsurprising as Metro had already spent £40 million on the failed Supertram project, much of which was used buying up property along the route. Clearly Metro felt it was important to use this property.
The scheme was put on hold when the Coalition came to power in 2010. It was reported subsequently that the scheme was second from bottom in terms of viability in a Department for Transport list of transport projects requiring government funding. So it came as a huge surprise to everyone when on a secret visit to Leeds on the 4th July 2012, Nick Clegg announced money would be forthcoming provided the scheme got through the necessary hurdles.
The promoters claim that the scheme will cost £250 million. But this is the same figure they were using in 2009. Of the total, £67.5 million would come Leeds City Council. Sheltered housing, community centres and leisure centres are being closed to pay for the trolleybus.
The trolleybuses would carry 160 passengers, but would have seating for just 60. The standing density would be 7 persons per square metre. Who would dream of leaving their car behind to have to pay to stand and be shaken about on an overcrowded bus?
There have been over 1,800 objections to the scheme submitted to the Department for Transport. Many people are concerned that £250 million is a lot of money to spend on a project that will provide just 20 trolleybuses on one route, and feel that the money could be better spent. Others are concerned about scheme’s effect on the environment. Yet others feel the scheme is not fit for purpose, and will make Leeds the laughing tock of the UK. They feel that Leeds should be investing in a tram or underground system instead.