The trolleybus based New Generation Transport (NGT) project in Leeds has been refused by the DfT. The Secretary of State has decided not to make the required Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 and not to give the planning direction. The Secretary accepts the project would be likely to address to some extent the need for public transport improvements in Leeds, but acknowledged there were a number of other factors weighing against it receiving planning permission.
The Inspector tasked with assessing the project said that as the trolley vehicles would share significant sections of the route with other traffic, they could be vulnerable to congestion and other delays making journey times less reliable than predicted by the applicants. He considered that the likelihood of a high proportion of people having to stand in peak times would be a deterrent to passengers. He noted that surveys indicated a strong preference for new double deckers over articulated vehicles or trolleybuses. He considered that the NGT scheme would not be fully integrated with other public transport as trolley vehicles would not use the same stops as buses and would not access the bus station.
The Inspector identified various concerns about the reliability of the data used and assumptions made by the applicants in forecasting the scale of the NGT scheme’s transportation and socio-economic benefits, which he considered had not been adequately tested. The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that, on the basis of the evidence examined at the inquiry, the ability of the NGT scheme to deliver the benefits that the applicants have predicted has not been substantiated.
Other forms of technology had not been taken into account, with the Inspector saying that other forms of technology were progressing, while trolley vehicle technology had not been widely adopted in recent years. The Inspector also said the scheme had not given significant weight to the environmental harm caused by overhead wiring compared with other modes of propulsion. He was concerned that the impact of the scheme on overall air quality would be negative due to the impact on other traffic and the use of grid electricity. He also believed it would have too much negative impact on the landscape and townscape.
Responding during the day of the proposed NGT Trolleybus scheme decision, MD for First West Yorkshire, Paul Matthews, said, ‘After due consideration we recognise the decision today to reject the application for the legal powers required to construct and operate the proposed NGT Trolleybus scheme. We believe this decision provides the opportunity for transport partners to plan the future travel networks for Leeds that would deliver a step change in public transport, supporting and stimulating economic growth and connectivity. We will continue to work hard with our partners at Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and fellow operators to build on the improvements made in recent years. We are looking forward to playing our full part in providing solutions that improve journey reliability and attract more people onto public transport.’
West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee Chair, Cllr Keith Wakefield, said, ‘Today’s news is a frustrating reminder that despite the government’s emphasis on devolution, we still find ourselves subject to decisions made remotely in Whitehall on local matters. Developing NGT in line with government advice and complying with the DfT’s lengthy approval process since 2007 has cost approaching £27m. However, land acquired for the scheme has a value of around £10m and we will now review which sites can be released so that the proceeds can be invested in transport improvements and initiatives to support economic growth.’