Traffic was one of the things you told us you’d change about Leeds, but will the proposed trolleybus help and is it worth the damage it will cause?
There’s no doubt that we have a traffic problem. At rush hour, the city’s streets are packed with cars, inching their way in, or out, of the Leeds. The good news is, there’s a plan in place to sort it out. The bad news is, not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.
New Generation Transport
‘A modern, reliable and integrated trolleybus system for Leeds and the city region’ – that’s how they describe New Generation Transport (NGT). It’s a plan put together by Metro and Leeds City Council, and aims to build a 14.8 kilometre trolleybus system stretching from Holt Park to Stourton, stopping at various locations along the way.
A trolleybus can hold up to 160 passengers and is powered by overhead cables, which makes them more environmentally friendly than buses. The new system is expected to reduce traffic, increase economic output and improve connectivity, which in turn, will help with the regeneration of the city centre and suburbs.
But it’s not all good news. The trolleybus will cost a whopping £250 million, and while £173.5 million of that is coming from the government, Metro and Leeds City Council will have to cough up the rest. However you look at it, that’s a lot of money, and if the city is getting such an investment, it’s important that it’s spent wisely, in a way that residents can get behind.
And, to give them credit, Metro and Leeds City Council have given residents ample opportunity to have their say. Twenty six ‘drop in’ events were held in 2013, giving locals a chance to feed back on plans. In an official statement, Councillor James Lewis explained that, “As a result of these events and the contacts established, a number of design changes have been made to the scheme to address concerns that people raised.” These changes include the addition of a cycling lane at Headingley Hill, alongside the bus lane, and a simplified junction at West Park. But not everyone is behind the scheme.
Protesting against the trolleybus
Already, we’ve seen protests in the streets, as those who object to the trolleybus development stand up against it. But why are they so opposed it it? Isn’t the new trolleybus system designed to help, rather than hinder? In fact, there are a good many reasons why residents are against it.
The route of the new trolleybus is one of the most contentious points. It goes without saying that the ‘route’ doesn’t exist at present, there are much loved buildings and green spaces scattered across it, and in order for the trolleybus to be built, they have to go.
Nicky Ford, one of the protestors told us that it’s “very controversial because it’s going to cause a lot of destruction to things that are very highly valued to the people of Leeds, things like mature trees and building, because roads will need to be widened.” And while that might be bearable if the trolleybus system did what it was meant to, she doesn’t think it will, “all of the evidence points to the fact that it’s not actually a viable transport solution. So what you’ve got is all these years of disruption whilst it’s being put in place; millions of pounds for something that’s not even going to reduce what it’s claiming to be for.”
Leeds Green Party have similar concerns, especially about the northern route, which runs from the city centre to Holt Park. We spoke to Chris Foren, Secretary of the Leeds Green Party, and he reiterated concerns about the felling of trees, telling us that it will result in huge environment destruction. And it will, the area they’re concerned with is set to lose 400 healthy mature trees, as well as fields at the top of Headingley Hill. Parts of Cinder Moor and Monument Moor in Woodhouse will also be lost.
This loss might be acceptable if the trolleybus reduced carbon emissions, but they don’t think this will be the case. Foren told us, “Even the promoters admit that it won’t cut the congestion through Headingley. They also admit that it will increase emissions overall. This is because the trolleybus will get priority at junctions thus causing long tailbacks of other traffic waiting to join the main road.”
So despite running on electricity, the trolleybus isn’t as environmentally friendly as you’d think. And it’s feared the new transport system will also impact cyclists. The concern is that when the trolleybus is implemented, cycling lanes will be lost, effectively making it harder for people to adopt a form of transport that’s not only good for the environment but also for health. With no cycling lanes to use, riders will be forced to share the road with trolleybus, something that will make their journey more stressful, and potentially, more dangerous too.
So while the trolleybus may be a big step forward for the city, it’s forcing us to take a step back, as the work that has been done to make Leeds more cycle friendly will effectively be undone.
Is it worth it?
With these concerns in mind, it’s hard not to wonder if the £250 million being invested into the trolleybus would be better spent elsewhere, on a transport project that would better meet the needs to the city and its residents. And that’s assuming, of course, that the project comes in on budget, something protestor Martin Fitzsimmons thinks is unlikely.
“This figure of £250 million ‘started’ six years ago and it has never been altered.” He told us, “It’s meant to be done in five years’ time. So that’s eleven years. The figure is still £250 million.” We may have been in a recession, but inflation certainly hasn’t stood still and it seems strange that the projected costs of the trolleybus haven’t risen in that time. But if the project were to overrun, where would the additional cash come from? The government have made their contribution, so any additional funding must surely come from the council, and by proxy, us – local tax payers who, like it or not, will be helping to pay for the new transport system.
Fitzsimmons went on to say that, “Transport in Leeds definitely needs to be sorted. But even if they were to do electric, ‘battery-operated’ buses, they could do it for a lot less disruption for the same cost, that could cover the whole of Leeds. For £250 million, you could get more and better service for the whole of Leeds.” And that’s the most compelling argument we’ve heard, because a new transport system will always bring debate, even protests. But if there’s a better alternative, that would improve transport in the city without hindering cyclists, shouldn’t we be pursuing that?
Already transport giants, First have put forward an alternative to the system, which would involve new, hybrid buses being put into action, with an Oyster-style payment system to save time. And when we asked Foren, from The Green Party, what their idea solution would be, he told us, “Our ideal alternative would be to introduce all-electric buses. These would stay on the existing highway. In addition, we would introduce segregated cycle lanes from Lawnswood roundabout all the way to the city centre. Everywhere segregated lanes have been introduced they have resulted in many more cyclists and fewer cars.” So perhaps there is a better alternative out there.
Where do you stand on the new trolleybus scheme? Do you think it will be good for the city or do you, like the protestors, think we should push for a transport system that suits everyone?