Inquiry launched into double debacle of Leeds Supertram and trolleybus schemes

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A MAJOR inquiry is set to be launched into the chain of decisions stretching back across three decades which saw TWO major transport schemes for Leeds scrapped – and tens of millions of pounds in taxpayer cash wasted in the process.

A cross party watchdog at Leeds City Council is to investigate the doomed duo of the NGT trolleybus and Supertram.

The separate projects were developed over nearly 30 years in total, and each spent 10 years in development limbo before finally being scrapped by the Government. NGT was abandoned earlier this year.

Now a scrutiny panel is to be tasked with finding out how decision-making at local level played a role in both failed projects.

The panel will be presented with a dossier of paperwork stretching back three decades, as it launches a probe which is expected to last several months.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “I look forward to seeing the results of the inquiry and to further discussions about how they can inform our planning for the future of public transport in Leeds.”

30 YEARS AND £72MILLION LATER...WILL LEEDS PEOPLE GET THE ANSWERS THEY DESERVE?

Almost 30 years later, with £72 million of taxpayers’ cash spent - and still no rapid transport system for Leeds.

The timeline of events from the moment the original supertram was mooted, to the point earlier this year when its hoped for successor the NGT trolleybus was also kicked into touch, makes depressing reading for anyone with an interest - both practical and intellectual - in the role of good urban transport in the success of big, ambitious cities.

But as Leeds City Council’s internal watchdog gets ready to launch a major investigation tomorrow into if and how local level decision-making played a part in the doomed dual saga, observers will be hoping that the panel can dig out the answers to some festering questions.

The inquiry was requested by Leeds City Council’s leader Judith Blake after some scathing criticism of the authority’s response the dumping of NGT by a Government inspector earlier this year.

It will be the cross-party City Development panel’s main piece of work this year and is expected to last several months.

Coun Blake said: “Having called for scrutiny to look into what we could learn as a city from Supertram and NGT, I am pleased to see that a rigorous and independent inquiry is now set to take place. I will look forward to seeing the results of the inquiry and to further discussions about how they can inform our planning for the future of public transport in Leeds.”

A dossier of evidence being presented to the panel includes records dating back to 1993, when the original Supertram first gained parliamentary approval, only to be thrown out eight years later. The fate of NGT followed a similar pattern.

Tomorrow’s meeting at Leeds Civic Hall will seek to lay out the terms of reference for the inquiry, before a timetable is drawn up for the inquiry sessions proper.

A pre-inquiry report being presented to the panel says: “The Supertram and NGT proposals were developed over a period of nearly 30 years.

“At all stages the Department for Transport were fully engaged and awarded both schemes formal approvals at key stages of their development. During this time period the schemes were supported by the major political parties at both national and local level.

“Supertram and NGT were both cancelled by the Department for Transport after each had spent over 10 years in development.”

SUPERTRAM TO TROLLEY-BUST: A TIMELINE OF EVENTS

1993: Supertram gains parliamentary approval

November 2005: The Secretary of State for Transport (Alistair Darling) cancelled th Supertram proposals. The Government stated that 90% of the benefits of a tram could be delivered by a bus-based scheme at 50% of the cost. ïhe promoters were therefore encouraged to develop a “top of the range rapid bus system” as a “showcase” for the rest of the country and were told that “the money would be there for the right proposals”.

2006 to 2007: Dff told the Promoters that there was no funding earmarked for NGT and that they would need to compete for funds through the Regional Funding Allocation process.

April 2007: An’lnitial Business Case’for NGT was submitted to the Dff.

July 2008: leeds Executive Board approved of €2.316m towards scheme development

January 2009: further Ê98.8 million was allocated to NGT through the RFA process

October 2009: The Major Scheme Business Case for NGT was submitted. Dff had indicated that they would make a decision on this by the end of 2010.

July 2010: Transport Minister Norman Baker visited Leeds and met with senior politicians to discuss NGT. He outlined the need for the Promoters to further reduce scheme costs and for an increase in the localfunding contribution.

September 2010: The NGT Promoters put forward a revised funding offer to increase the local contribution lo 20% (Ê50m) and reduce the Government’s contribution to around Ê200m.

March 2011: The Secretary of State for Transport visited Leeds and met with the NGT Promoters. He encouraged the Promoters to further increase their localfunding offer.

May 2011: Executive Board approved the submission of a Best and Final Bidm increasing the local contribution to £57.1m

December 2011: NGT not approved by Dff in current round of major scheme approvals, which included Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge Rail Stations.

March 2012: Following discussions with DfT a further bid was put forward for NGT.

July 2012: Dff granted NGT Programme Entry status, at a cost of Ê250m with a Dff contribution of £173,5m.

October 2012: Executive Board approved £12m to progress the scheme towards the TWAO submission

Jan 2013 . Gateway 1 Review held

March 2013: Executive Board approved expenditure of â19.2m to progress the scheme to the construction phase.

September 2013: Transport and Works Act Order submitted

April 2014: NGT Public lnquiry commences.

October 2014: NGT Public lnquiry finishes having sat for 72 days.

July 2015: Notification that the lnspector’s report was submitted to Dff for consideration. Dff guidance indicates a 6 month timescale for making decisions on

May 2016: NGT cancelled by Secretary of State Transport

An image of the proposed trolleybus (NGT) scheme.

Lessons learned ahead of meeting about Leeds trolleybus inquiry