‘Learn to listen’ plea to Leeds transport chiefs over trolleybus and Supertram ‘embarrassment’

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Emotions ran high at the first session of an inquiry into the failures that led to Leeds’s high profile trolleybus and Supertram plans being scrapped.

A witness at the scrutiny session at Leeds Civic Hall - a lifelong transport professional - was visibly choked up as he recalled sitting in front of Ministers to be told that “no Secretary of State could have agreed that project” as it was.

Chris Longley of the Federation of Small Businesses, one of three expert witnesses who had been asked to present their views to the City Development scrutiny panel yesterday, revealed that he and colleagues had started lobbying Government to let Leeds keep the £173m funding earmarked for the trolleybus project BEFORE Ministers decided to scrap the scheme.

Directly addressing representatives from Leeds City Council’s transport department and West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Mr Longley, who was part of the three man team which successfully brought a Supertram to Sheffield, said: “I think you need to learn to listen to the things you don’t want to hear as well as the things you do.”

He said his organisation had “opposed the trolleybus openly because we thought it was flawed project, without clear purpose...or clear justification”.

Mr Longley told the panel that he had “hated” having to oppose the trolleybus at the public inquiry - and he did it with “a very heavy heart indeed” - as he was passionate about improving public transport in his home city, “So I really mean it when I say that I want the processes that you have in the future to succeed. It’s far too important,” he said.

He urged decision-makers to “move to be credible and believable” when they present a new case to the Government.

And he stressed the importance of a sound business plan and economic strategy which has been “externally verified”.

“You can’t mark your own homework - get rigorous independent evaluation of your business plan before you go public’”, he said.

The scrutiny panel will be asked to feed back its views on what lessons can be learned and applied for future transport provision, community engagement, and the future transport options they think will work for Leeds.

Speaking after the session. Conservative councillor Dan Cohen, who sits on the scrutiny panel, said the city’s transport chiefs had given “no coherent answer to the challenges put to them”.

The same witnesses are expected to return for a second sitting of the inquiry to discuss some of the points raised,

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