Norman Baker on the trolleybus decision

Former Lib Dem MP and transport minister, Norman Baker.

Former Lib Dem MP and transport minister, Norman Baker.

Leeds University’s Clothworkers Centenary Hall was the venue for this evening’s talk by former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker about his experience as a transport minister in the coalition government. Mr Baker, who had been invited to speak by the Institute for Transport Studies, gave fascinating insights into how government works, recalling how as a result of a phone call from Angela Merkel to David Cameron, Britain changed its policy on vehicle fuel efficiency, a move that favoured German car manufacturers and which caused fury amongst British car manufacturers and consternation amongst Mr Cameron’s colleagues. He also told how he had been interested in using transport policy to cut carbon emissions, whilst his Conservative colleague Philip Hammond had been more interested in using it to promote growth. He described the workings of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and the Green Bus Fund and said that these were both Lib Dem initiatives. During the question and answer session, Mr Baker was asked a number of questions including this one about the decision on the trolleybus application:

“Following the public inquiry into the application by Leeds City Council and Metro for a Transport and Works act order to allow them to construct a trolleybus line, who will the decision really be made by? Will it be transport minister Lord Ahmad, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, senior Department for Transport officials, or Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne? And what do you think the key factor will be in the decision on whether or not to give the scheme the go-ahead?”

In response, Mr Baker said that in 2010 he was of the opinion that Leeds should have a tram system as it was the only major city in Europe without a rapid transit system. But he said that because at that time, a trolleybus was all that Leeds was asking for, he decided to help the city with its application.

Mr Baker said that if the transport minster is busy when the trolleybus papers from the Department for Transport land on his desk, he might sign them without looking at them. He also said that if George Osborne or Patrick McLoughlin ring the minister and say they want the scheme to go ahead, then it would go ahead irrespective of what senior officers recommend.

Lord Ahmad will make trolleybus decision

Lord Ahmad (photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers)

Lord Ahmad (photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers)

It was reported today on MP Greg Mulholland’s website,1 that Robert Goodwill will not after all be deciding the future of the trolleybus proposal. The announcement is the result of concern expressed by Mr Mulholland to Transport Secretary Patrick Mcloughlin about remarks made by Mr Goodwill in 2009 which indicated his support for the proposal. Mr Goodwill had said at a meeting of the Parliamentary Yorkshire and Humber Regional Grand Committee2:

“Leeds is now looking at – I hope it will go forward with this – a trolley bus scheme”

Mr Mulholland’s website states:

Mr McLoughlin has now confirmed that the final decision will instead be made by Lord Ahmad to avoid “even the appearance of bias”.

Tariq Ahmad is a businessman and former Wimbledon councillor. He became Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon in 2011 and was made a transport minister in May 2015.


Ask David Cameron to invest in walking to school

Walking and healthIn 2012, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE),1 published guidance which considers walking and cycling as forms of transport, for getting to work, school or the shops. The guidance states that walking and cycling bring numerous benefits including:

  1. Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  2. Promoting mental wellbeing.
  3. A reduction in car travel, leading to reductions in air pollution, carbon dioxide emissions and congestion.
  4. A reduction in road danger and noise.

If more children walked to school, it would reduce urban traffic (including congestion on the A660) and lead to a healthier lifestyle amongst young people. “Living Streets” is encouraging young people to walk to school as part of their “Walk to School” campaign, and they’re asking people to sign a petition to David Cameron asking him to support their campaign:

A generation ago over 70% of children walked to school. Today this has dropped to 46%.

But it’s not too late to turn things around. A relatively small investment from the government could help make walking the norm for millions of children, helping to cut childhood obesity and relieve congestion and pollution.

The government has made some commitment to tackling this issue but plans are scant. With the government Spending Review due we think it’s time to take it to the top.

We’ve teamed up with our friends at Sustrans (a cycling and sustainable transport organisation) to ask David Cameron to take a lead and make sure that the plans laid out for walking and cycling are given adequate funds.”

If you’d like to sign the petition asking for David Cameron’s support for the Living Streets campaign, please click on this link:

Ask David Cameron to invest in walking to school


Minister in trolleybus controversy

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 several thousand Yorkshire Evening Post readers showing that over 70% consider that it would be bad for Leeds.7 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


Ministerial Bias in Favour of the Trolleybus

Photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers

Photo courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers

In a letter to Greg Mulholland MP, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill has confirmed that he will be the minister responsible for deciding whether or not the trolleybus scheme is given the go-ahead.1 The minister told Mr Mulholland he was “replying as the Minister responsible for decisions under the Transport and Works Act (TWA) on local transport schemes such as this.”

The A660 Joint Council is very concerned that the Secretary of State has given the responsibility for making this hugely important decision to someone who has publicly expressed their desire that the trolleybus scheme should go ahead.

During a parliamentary debate on the 11th March 2008,2 then opposition MP Robert Goodwill said:

Leeds is now considering a trolley bus scheme — a second best scheme — which will share the same infrastructure as the cars and buses.

But a year later, Mr Goodwill had changed his mind about the trolleybus. At a meeting on the 29th October 2009 of the Parliamentary Yorkshire and Humber Regional Grand Committee3 attended by fellow MP Greg Mulholland, Mr Goodwill said:

Leeds is the largest city in Europe that does not have its own rapid transit scheme. In 2001, the Government gave provisional approval for a supertram scheme in Leeds. In the light of that, work was undertaken on assessing bids, procurement and roadworks to provide the necessary infrastructure. However, the Government called a halt to the project in 2005. Despite being cancelled, significant public funds were spent on the project. On 20 December, the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), stated:
“Around £39 million of public sector finance has been spent on Leeds Supertram. Of this, around £5 million has been spent on construction costs with around a further £14 million on land and property purchase. In 2004–05 the Department provided £6 million to the promoters of Leeds Supertram for scheme development costs, including advance works.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 2916W.]
That is money down the drain because of the inability of the Government to deliver the funding for a project that they encouraged Leeds city council to go ahead with. Leeds is now looking at—I hope it will go forward with this—a trolley bus scheme. Why was it not given the signal that it should go ahead with a trolley bus scheme from the start, rather than all that money being wasted?

Is it right that someone who has already said that he hopes the trolleybus scheme will go ahead, should be the person who decides whether or not it does go ahead?


Leeds City Council urged to reconsider trolleybus scheme

council-chamber 640

Earlier today, a deputation from the A660 Joint Council told councillors at a full meeting of Leeds City Council that there are serious errors in the city’s Draft Site Allocations Plan relating to open space, which mean that the council should reconsider its decision to proceed with the trolleybus scheme. Here is the text of the speech that was given to the council :

Good afternoon. My name is Dawn Carey Jones. I’m secretary to the A660 Joint Council. I’m accompanied by Joint Council member Claire Randall. We’re here to make you aware that a shortage of open space along the proposed trolleybus route, means the scheme contravenes national and local planning policies, and to ask you to act on this information.

The NGT Project Board minutes reveal that the Board recognized that running NGT across Woodhouse Moor contravened both local and national guidance. The Deputy Chief Planning Officer said “it will be difficult to designate the land on Woodhouse Moor as surplus.” The Acting Chief Executive of Metro said “it is difficult to argue the case for the land being classed as surplus.” The policies that would be contravened are N1 of the UDP and Policy 74 of the National Planning Policy Framework which states that open space should not be developed unless it’s surplus to requirements, or replaced.

Despite this, at the public inquiry, Metro claimed that Hyde Park and Woodhouse has surplus open space, and can therefore spare land on Monument Moor for NGT. When it was pointed out to the Deputy Chief Planning Officer that the previous week, one of his planning officer’s reports on the St Michael’s College re-development had stated, “The ward of Hyde Park and Woodhouse records one of the highest levels of greenspace deficiency across the city,” he claimed that this was an error, and that the true position was one of surplus, as shown in the Draft Site Allocation Plan, which he waved in the air.

But just how much reliance can be placed on the Draft Site Allocations Plan? The truth is that this is a document containing many major errors.

Error 1. It designates 1.312 hectares at “Cliff Mount Fields” as ‘Parks and Gardens.” Although the area was classified as N1 in the UDP, it was used by City of Leeds School for formal sports and given to the school and fenced off when the school became an academy.

Error 2. It designates 19.799 hectares at “Woodhouse Moor Park” as “Parks and Gardens.” But the council’s Woodhouse Moor Management Plan 2004 reveals that the area is actually 19.07 hectares, 0.73 hectares less than claimed.

Error 3. It designates 0.536 hectares at “Mount Preston Street (Leeds Uni)” as “Amenity Green Space” even though this area has been entirely built on.

Error 4. It designates 1.208 hectares at “Woodsley Road (Leeds Uni)” as “Amenity Green Space” even though most of this area has been built on and just 0.12 hectares remain.

Error 5. It designates 0.854 hectares at “Willow Road – Rising Sun Public Open Space” as “Amenity Green Space” even though it’s a fenced off, locked up sports pitch. Furthermore, it double counts this site by also including it as “Outdoor Sports.”

Error 6 –It states there are three tennis courts on Woodhouse Moor when there are actually six. They occupy 0.12 hectares and not 0.223 as claimed.

Error 7 – It states that the three bowling greens on Woodhouse Moor cover 4.11 hectares when they actually cover 0.44 hectares. And since two are decommissioned, the true figure is 0.15 hectares.

Error 8 – It double counts 1.312 hectares at Cliff Mount Fields by including the area as both ‘Parks and Gardens” and “Outdoor Sports.” This area should not have been included as ‘Outdoor Sports” since the Draft Site Allocations Plan states it excludes educational outdoor sports provision.

Error 9 – It states that the area of Woodhouse Ridge inside Hyde Park and Woodhouse ward is 5.024 hectares. A glance at a map shows this to be incorrect. If it were true, the area would be bigger than Cinder Moor and Monument Moor combined, which clearly it’s not.

Error 10 – It states that dividing 5.024 hectares of Natural Greenspace by the 2011 population figure of 25,914 gives a provision of 1.93 hectares per 1,000 population., when it actually gives a provision of 0.193 hectares per 1,000, much less than the required minimum of 0.7.

When all the errors are corrected, and up to date population estimates used, Hyde Park and Woodhouse is shown to have deficits in all categories of open space. This means no part of Woodhouse Moor can be spared for the trolleybus. There are serious implications too for the housing target for the ward. Please can the above Draft Site Allocations Plan errors be corrected, and the document checked for other similar errors. Similar errors do exist.

On the false understanding that Hyde Park and Woodhouse has surplus open space, the council appropriated three sections of Woodhouse Moor for the trolleybus scheme. Now that you’re aware that the ward had a deficit in open space, please reverse this decision, and please also reconsider your decisions of the 1st July and 13th November 2013 to support an application for a Transport and Works Act Order to enable the trolleybus project to proceed.


National Transit Database: Trolleybus Accident Statistics

Since 2008, the National Transit Database of the Federal Transit Administration has included extremely detailed urban passenger transport accident statistics.1

The table below has been produced using data extracted from the National Transit Database: Safety and Security Time Series Data. 2


National Transit Database: Safety & Security Time Series Data


Motor BusTrolleybus Motor BusTrolleybus Motor BusTrolleybus

The table shows that whereas on average between 2008 and 2013, trolleybuses travelled 0.60% of the urban vehicle miles travelled by all buses, they accounted for 1.32% of the injuries to cyclists, and 2.20% of the injuries to pedestrians.

This means that a trolleybus is twice as likely as a motor bus to injure a cyclist, and three and a half times as likely as a motor bus to injure a pedestrian.

The following graph illustrates the much higher trolleybus injury rate.


Of the 571 trolleybuses currently operating in the United States (APTA 2012),3 just 119 or 20% are articulated vehicles, which suggests that some factor other than the length of the vehicle is responsible for the significantly higher injury rate of trolleybuses. A possible explanation for the higher injury rate is supplied by Barry J Simpson in Urban Public Transport Today (1994)4

“They are also much quieter than buses, which may be a blessing environmentally but can be a hazard to pedestrians, especially the blind, cyclists and others who may detect a bus coming from behind by sound rather than sight, hence their unfortunate nickname, ‘whispering death’.”

As well as being known as ‘Whispering Death’ in Australia, trolleybuses were known as ‘Silent Death’ and ‘Granny Killers’ in the UK.


Transport and Works Act Order

An application was submitted today to the Department for Transport for a Transport and Works Act Order for the NGT Trolleybus Scheme.

The documents submitted are available to view online at:

We have 42 days until the 31st October to make our individual objections.

The Secretary of State for Transport will decide whether or not to hold a public inquiry based both on the quality and quantity of our objections.

Objections can be sent either by post or by email. If you send an email, please remember to add your postal address.

The address to send written objections to is:

Secretary of State for Transport
c/o Transport and Works Act Orders Unit
General Counsel’s Office
Department for Transport
Zone 1/18, Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 4DR

The address to send email objections to is:


Read More

Planning Applications

Leeds City Council has submitted 37 planning applications to support the Transport and Works Act Order to be submitted on the 19th September.

These will be decided separately from the TWAO application, by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, although they will be considered at the same public inquiry.

So far there are 34 of these applications by Metro relating to NGT!  (Please see the links below)

Please send letters or emails of objection about these planning applications to:

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
c/o National Planning Casework Unit
5 St Philips Place
Colmore Row
B3 2PW

Please remember to include your postal address if you send your objection by email.

To read more and view the applications


Deputation to Leeds City Council

Pictured from left to right : Tony Green, Paula Liptrot, Ian Liptrot, Doug Kemp and Martyn Thomas

Pictured from left to right : Tony Green, Paula Liptrot, Ian Liptrot, Doug Kemp and Martyn Thomas

A660 Joint Council chairman Doug Kemp led a deputation to Leeds Civic Hall on Wednesday afternoon to ask the gathered councillors to scrap the trolleybus scheme. After he finished an excellent speech, he was given an enthusiastic and long round of applause from supporters in the packed public gallery, many of whom had given up their lunch hours to attend.

My Lord Mayor and fellow councillors. My name is Doug Kemp from West Park. My colleagues are Martyn Thomas from Weetwood, Tony Green from North Hyde Park, Paula and Ian Liptrot from Belle Isle.

This deputation is speaking on behalf of the A660 Joint Council, which draws it membership from over 12 organisations representing residents, businesses groups, and individuals from South and North Leeds all of whom share a common interest and grave misgivings over the proposed NGT trolley bus scheme.

Fundamentally, the Council is being drawn into spending money on a transport scheme which is conceptually flawed. The trolley bus is the wrong transport medium on the wrong route. Sadly NGT owes most of its concept and planning to the original 1992 SuperTram scheme. However in the Last 20 years much has changed: changes in thinking about environmental and transport strategies; in transport technology; not to mention the development needs and plans of Leeds itself.

Indeed NGT does not address planned regeneration schemes in the South and East of the city, nor does it address inner city traffic movements. In essence the scheme is not fit for purpose.

Leeds has been starved of government funding for its transport infrastructure, and yes it would benefit from a modern transport network, but it has to be one which is both appropriate and sensitive to the needs of the city, both now and in the future. Spending money on the wrong system is wrong.

For instance, why does NGT focus on the A660, Yes, it is congested, BUT.

  1. It is the least important route in terms of traffic in and out of the city. Compared with other radial routes it carries only about 30% of the traffic, which they on average carry.
  2. It already has the highest bus frequency and the highest usage of bus services

Whilst for South Leeds NGT plans to take the trolley bus route through a pedestrian precinct, the grounds of a primary school and across Belle Isle Circus.

Does this sound like a scheme likely to attract over-whelming public support? No wonder increasing numbers of residents across the whole of Leeds think that NGT is madness.

So what does NGT offer:

  1. A “quality transport experience” whereby the majority of passengers have to stand
  2. Luxury stops to enjoy while waiting for a less frequent service than currently available, having walked further because of fewer trolley bus stops – not good for the elderly or disabled.
  3. The decimation of existing bus services, with the prospect of the total loss of some outer bus services.
  4. Changes to the road architecture which disadvantage cyclists and pedestrians.
  5. The same or worse congestion, with traffic hold-ups leaving pollution levels unaffected.

NGT does not even transfer significant car users onto the trolley bus (only 15%), it merely moves bus users onto another type of bus

Are you as councillors certain this is the right system? Just look at the guided bus systems on the Scott Hall and York roads – Ugly, outdated and less and less used.

There is a real dangers that Leeds in 2020 could be saddled with an inflexible overhead cable-based single transport line, installed at great expense, and incredibly expensive to extend into any meaningful network.

It does not have to be a trolley bus system – there are other options, options which are better, cheaper, more effective and future-proof.

NGT is a system that the people of Leeds do not want. They see it being based on obsolete technology, a transport system which will be out-of-date before it begins to operate.

The Leeds Vision talks of “spending money wisely”so remember that In addition to the £173.5million of government funding, the remainder of at least £76.5 million has to come from local authority sources.

These are significant amounts of money, does it make sense to blindly charge forward without taking stock of the fundamental issues.

Does NGT really offer the city of Leeds value for money? I suggest it does not.