Revealed: Sky-high costs of public inquiry into Leeds trolleybus plans

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New figures today lay bare the eye-watering costs racked up by the public inquiry into Leeds’s trolleybus plans.

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As previously reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post, the overall bill for the taxpayer-funded inquiry process could be as much as £2.6m.

Now a request under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed how much of the final total will cover the £630-per-day work of Martin Whitehead, the Government-appointed inspector who headed up the inquiry.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is being invoiced £157,162 for his time, with individual expense items including:

* £10,596 for Mr Whitehead’s preparatory work;

* £41,170 for the days that the inquiry sat in Leeds between April and October last year;

* £83,941 for Mr Whitehead’s work on the post-inquiry report to the DFT that will decide the fate of the trolleybus scheme.

Other expenditure includes £5,709 on hotel stays and £2,154 on “subsistence”.

The YEP can also reveal that Mr Whitehead’s all-important report has now been submitted to the DfT, although a decision on the trolleybus scheme’s future is not expected until late this year or early next.

The cost of the inquiry process was today condemned by Leeds-based transport campaigner Stuart Long.

Mr Long told the YEP: “Many taxpayers have been strongly against this project from the start but they are the ones picking up the bill for the inquiry.

“There are countless ways that this money could have been put to better use, not least helping the city’s poor and homeless.”

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Government ministers handed Leeds’s New Generation Transport (NGT) trolleybus scheme £170m of funding in the summer of 2012.

However, the scheme’s promoters – Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) – still need to secure a Transport Works Act Order (TWAO) for legal permission to commission, build and operate the system.

Whitehall’s decision on the award of the TWAO will be based on Mr Whitehead’s post-inquiry report and recommendations.

Construction work on the system – which would run from Holt Park in the north of the city to Stourton in the south – could start by 2017 if it clears that final hurdle.

Critics of NGT say it represents poor value for money and would damage the environment.

A spokesman for the WYCA said: “Any project of the size and scale of NGT has to undergo a public inquiry of the kind that took place between April and October last year and the one that took place for [Leeds’s axed] Supertram scheme in 1997.

“The costs of an inquiry are affected by its duration and that is to a very large extent dependent upon the number of submissions made by objectors.

“During last year’s 72-day inquiry, NGT was subject to significant public scrutiny through representations from individuals and the First bus company’s legal experts.”

The spokesman added that the WYCA remained confident that the case for the scheme was “compelling”.

TIMETABLE OF FRUSTRATION

* Plans for a tram system linking Seacroft and Cross Gates with the city centre were floated as long ago as the late 1980s.

* The then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, gave Leeds’s Supertram light rail network the green light in 2001.

* Labour ministers pulled the plug on Supertram in 2005 amid concerns over spiralling costs – a decision branded a “disgrace” by Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland.

* Cheaper plans for a New Generation Transport (NGT) trolleybus scheme were submitted to central government in 2009.

* The public inquiry into NGT finished sitting last October – but a decision on the scheme’s future might not be made before the start of next year.

Faye Burdett before (left) and after she contracted meningitis. Picture: Meningitis Now/PA Wire

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