The hardest word of all
Five days after the transport strategy for Leeds hit the buffers, “sorry” still appears the hardest word of all to say (wrote Tom Richmond).
[Tom Richmond: The Trolleybus scandal. Leeds humiliated by breakdown of transport leadership, Yorkshire Post, 17 May 2016]
Indeed this lack of contrition, after a Government planning inspector rejected the city’s ill-conceived £250m trolleybus plan, is precisely the type of dismissive behaviour which brings politics – and public life – into disrepute. Is no one going to accept responsibility?
Already £72m of taxpayers’ money has gone to waste on legal costs in a congested city no nearer to developing a light rail system than it was three decades ago. And some of the key figures are the same individuals driving transport policy for the wider region.
There’s Keith Wakefield, the longstanding leader of Leeds Council until he stepped down in May 2015. The Labour veteran now heads transport on the Combined Authority and says trolleybus was pursued “in line with government advice”.
There’s Tom Riordan who headed the profligate Yorkshire Forward regional development agency before becoming council chief executive in 2010.
There’s Trolleybus champion James Lewis who headed Metro, the area’s passenger transport body, before it was replaced by West Yorkshire Combined Authority. The Labour councillor is deputy leader of Leeds Council.
And then there’s Martin Farrington, the director of city development in Leeds since 2010 and project leader. Under cross-examination, he conceded that he was “not an expert” in “transport planning”.
It’s summed up by the closing legal submission of bus firm First West Yorkshire Limited: “Despite claiming that there was a need for a rapid transport system, Mr Farrington was not aware of the average speed of the proposed trolleybuses…
“When asked what proportion of passengers using the trolleybus would come from using the car, he candidly said that he was not in a position to answer and had ‘no idea’.”