Posted on 06 February 2013.
The A660 Joint Council Reforms as a Channel for NGT Questions
In July the Government gave the go ahead to develop plans for a New Generation Transport (NGT) scheme which would see trolley buses running from Holt Park through the city centre out to Stourton, with park n’ ride facilities at Bodington and at Stourton.
The Stourton/city-centre route is mainly segregated from existing traffic, and may well fit into planned major future developments for south Leeds. However, the proposed A660 northern route has roused serious concerns both about its potential benefits and the impact of NGT on the communities of north Leeds.
Public consultations at Ireland Wood, West Park (attended by over 200 local residents), Weetwood, Headingley and Hyde Park have given residents the chance to see the current draft plans. An overwhelming majority of residents have expressed concerns about the prospect of NGT and its likely effect on their communities.
The A660 Joint Council (A660JC) has been re-established to assist the various community groups based along and around the A660 to share information, gain access to expert advice and to act as a focus and channel for NGT questions and concerns to be expressed, helping to ensure that these are addressed
Consisting of representatives from community associations, local businesses and local residents, the A660JC recognises that Leeds, as a large modern city, needs a cohesive, effective and appropriate transport system but it has to be the right system, future-proof and fitting to the character of Leeds.
NGT’s trolley-buses are billed as helping to reduce traffic congestion, and making public transport more attractive, but there are many questions that need to be answered, for instance:-
What makes the trolley bus the preferred system? The necessary overhead cabling is unsightly and detrimental to the character of the many conservation areas along the route. It certainly makes the transport network inflexible against a system using, for instance, a hybrid fuel system bus that requires no such infrastructure. Overall it seems like old fashioned technology compared with the battery powered buses being developed by a firm at Sherburn-in-Elmet.
The loss of green verges and mature trees necessitated by NGT is supposed to be balanced by re-planting, although quite where this re-planting space is situated is questionable.
Central reservaion at Lawnswood
Current plans will isolate communities immediately adjacent to the A660, with little regard to access issues for residents whilst the impact of traffic flow ‘diversions’, likely to result from NGT, on residential areas further afield are far from clear. Certainly many small businesses at Far Headingley and West Park will face difficulties from the road changes required by NGT.
Unlike the southern route of NGT, the proposed single deck articulated trolley-buses on the A660 will share significant stretches of road with other vehicles, although it is claimed that it will still save commuter time into the city from the park n’ ride facilities. The traffic priority given to the trolley bus will be at the expense of cars and other buses, and so is likely to increase traffic queues and pollution, especially through Headingley.
The role of Quality Bus Contracts as part of NGT is also unclear. These have been introduced in cities such as London, bringing significant improvements to existing bus services without the need for trolley buses. Indeed the impact of NGT on the ordinary bus network is uncertain and could dramatically reduce the current service offered to communities such as Cookridge and Tinshill.
NGT is portrayed as a flagship development that will help to deliver economic returns and jobs, but there are already regeneration projects planned for the south of the city. The perspective of many people is that NGT is a ‘poor man’s tram system’, which will do little to enhance the image of Leeds or attract further inward investment.
Also NGT doesn’t come cheap, with only £173.5 million of Government monies on offer against the estimated £250 million. What other services in Leeds will need to be cut back to fill the project’s funding gap?
Traffic for a growing city like Leeds is a major concern and perhaps doing nothing should not be an option. Certainly no one would argue that the A660 is not congested. The trouble is perhaps that NGT seems to be too much a re-work of the old super tram proposal, whereas what is really required is new thinking. Leeds should resist the desire to take government money just because it’s on offer and plan out what the city needs in terms of a transport system, paying due regard to what is already in place and what is feasible.
This may all sound rather negative but there is a real danger in that NGT may not the answer to the transport needs of the A660 or Leeds. It has the potential to be just an expensive folly that will become a millstone for Leeds rather than a milestone development.