Businesses want inquiry on Leeds trolleybus plans

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin
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BUSINESSES have stepped up the campaign against a Yorkshire trolleybus scheme with a call for a public inquiry into the plans.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in West Yorkshire has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin expressing grave concerns over the Leeds project.

The FSB fears shops and firms along the proposed route could suffer a loss of trade during the construction of the £250m New Generation Transport (NGT) network.

It also claims there has been a “lack of consultation” with small businesses on the route, particularly along the A660 Otley Road through Headingley.

FSB regional chairman Chris Glen said: “Everyone agrees that Leeds urgently requires a modern, improved and fully-integrated transport system to reduce traffic congestion and aid traffic flow.

“However, we don’t believe the trolleybus will actually reduce traffic congestion on the A660 through Headingley.

“The trolleybus will require traffic signalling to give it priority and this could instead hinder traffic flow further as other road users will stack up behind it due to the narrow width of the road.

“It is an expensive scheme, considering that it will only cover a stretch of eight miles or so.

“For the FSB, the cost that small businesses will pay in loss of trade, particularly during the construction phase, does not justify proceeding with the scheme. That’s why we are calling for a public inquiry to be held.”

West Yorkshire passenger transport authority Metro and Leeds City Council’s NGT plans were given the green light by the Government in July last year.

However, Metro and the council still have to secure a Transport Works Act (TWA) Order that would hand them legal permission to commission, build and operate the system.

The Secretary of State for Transport will have the final say on the award of the TWA Order and could rule there is a need for a public inquiry to consider the pros and cons of the scheme before making a decision.

Metro yesterday said it had staged nearly 50 public events and distributed more than 52,000 leaflets as part of a programme of “engagement activity” along the trolleybus route.

A spokesman also said briefings had been held with shops in West Park, Headingley business forum Head-on, Leeds Chamber of Commerce, Leeds Property Forum and Leeds Retail Association.

Further engagement events were planned with the business community, the spokesman added.

Previously confirmed supporters of trolleybus include bosses at Leeds Rugby, the First Direct Arena and Hammerson, the developer behind the city centre’s Victoria Gate retail scheme.

If Leeds’s TWA Order application is successful, construction work on the project is scheduled to get under way in 2017 or 2018.

Powered electrically by overhead wires, the trolleybuses will run between Holt Park in the north of the city and Stourton in the south.

Around 20 buildings along the northern section of the route are due to be fully or partially demolished during its construction.

NGT chiefs say the scheme will reduce congestion while boosting local economic output by more than £175m per year.

Opponents claim the project will offer poor value for money and damage the environment while Leeds East MP George Mudie has condemned it as “unglamorous”.

Leeds’s trolleybus plans were drawn up after the then Labour government scrapped the city’s Supertram light rail scheme in 2005 amid worries about spiralling costs.

The FSB, which has 5,200 members in West Yorkshire, says congestion problems in Leeds would be better tackled by improved bus services and incentives for motorists to use park-and-ride sites.