Minister embroiled in trolleybus controversy

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Minister embroiled in trolleybus controversy

 

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Robert Goodwill (photo courtesy of Malton and Pickering Mercury]

Robert Goodwill (photo courtesy of Malton and Pickering Mercury]

In 2005, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling refused to give Leeds the money for a Supertram scheme similar to Sheffield’s.1 Now, ten years later, and following a six months long public inquiry in 2014, Leeds waits to hear whether transport minister Robert Goodwill will give Leeds approval for an inferior and much cheaper trolleybus system.2

As well as being under-secretary of state for transport, Robert Goodwill is also the MP for Scarborough and Whitby. A farmer, with 250 acres at Terrington near York, Mr Goodwill has numerous business interests.3

One would think that such an important decision as whether or not Leeds will get a trolleybus system would be made by someone who is impartial. But before Mr Goodwill became a transport minister, he told a parliamentary committee that he hoped the trolleybus scheme would go ahead. His words were, “Leeds is now looking at — I hope it will go forward with this — a trolley bus scheme.”4

Greg Mulholland (photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers)

Greg Mulholland (photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers)

MP Greg Mulholland has now been to see the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin,5 to express his concern that the minister responsible for deciding whether or not the scheme goes ahead, has previously shown bias in favour of the scheme.6

This affair raises several important questions. Was Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin aware of Robert Goodwill’s views on the trolleybus when he gave him the job of deciding whether or not the scheme should get the go-ahead? Should Mr Goodwill have refused the job when he was offered it? Now that Patrick McLoughlin knows without question about Mr Goodwill’s support for the scheme, will he give the job of deciding the scheme’s future to someone else? For surely the stance of the person responsible for making the decision on the trolleybus scheme should should only have been determined after he had read the inspector’s report and considered all the views which have been put forward.

Patrick McLoughlin (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Patrick McLoughlin (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The trolleybus scheme is hugely unpopular in Leeds with an online poll of over seven thousand Yorkshire Evening Post readers showing that over 70% consider that it would be bad for Leeds.7 And since July 2012 when the scheme was given an initial “thumbs-up” by the Department for Transport, over two hundred letters have been published in the Yorkshire Evening Post criticising the scheme. If Robert Goodwill decides in the scheme’s favour, people will always wonder if the decision was pre-determined, and if there was ever any point in having a public inquiry.

But the outcome of this controversy has an importance that goes beyond Leeds, for if the Leeds trolleybus scheme goes ahead, it’s likely that other transport authorities in the UK will want to follow suit with trolleybus schemes of their own. At a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Executive Board in June 2013, the head of Highways, Councillor Richard Lewis, said that the other towns in the region want Leeds to get a move-on with the trolleybus scheme, as they want trolleybus schemes of their own. His exact words were, “It isn’t just Leeds riding on this, it’s the other districts . . . They are saying that they’d love to have NGT and Leeds needs to push through with it as this will affect them too.”8
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