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Leeds Trollybus Decision: Scheme Rejected by Secretaries of State

Gregory Jones QC
David Graham

The Secretary of State for Transport has today determined to reject the application by Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for a Transport and Works Act Order and a direction giving 'deemed planning permission’ to authorise construction of a trolley vehicle system in Leeds.   The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has also rejected the applications for listed buildings and conservation area consent.

The proposal was to build a trolleybus line with overhead electric line infrastructure through the centre of Leeds, running from Stourton in the south to Holt Park.  The proposals would require compulsory acquisition of land and substantial roadworks to construct stations and infrastructure.

The application was considered at a public inquiry by the Secretary of State’s inspector Mr Martin Whitehead LLB BSC (Hons) MICE between 29 April 2014 and 31 October 2014.  

Gregory Jones QC and David Graham, instructed by King&Wood Mallesons LLP, acted for the successful third party objectors, First West Yorkshire Limited (‘FWY’).  

FWY, a subsidiary of First Group Plc, are a major private bus operator in the city of Leeds which was concerned that the proposal was not integrated with the existing public transport network and would detrimentally affect its passengers by interfering with existing services and threatening the overall viability of the bus network.  The Secretary of State accepted FWY’s case that the applicants’ proposals would not improve public transport in the city.  He agreed with the inspector’s findings that the scheme failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and congestion, would result in longer car journey times,  could harm bus service frequencies, would harm the character and appearance of historic parts of the city and result in loss of green space.    He also agreed that alternatives required assessment.  The inspector had been unconvinced that the proposed articulated trolley vehicles were suitable and had concerns about the scale of standing by passengers, as well as the limited locations of stops and their lack of integration with other public transport stops, and detriment to cyclists.  The Secretary of State accepted the FWY case that ‘with the latest advances in bus propulsion technology many of the environmental and performance benefits claimed for the…scheme could be achieved by measures which involved less environmental harm and at lower cost,’ and noting the inspector’s conclusions that ‘if implemented, the alternative proposals advanced at the inquiry by First West Yorkshire would introduce modern hybrid buses which, combined with improved bus stops, signal prioritisation and segregated bus lanes, could offer a noticeable improvement in the quality of public transport and greater flexibility than the proposed…scheme, at lower cost and less environmental harm.’  

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