A report calling for a wholesale review of the UK’s freight strategy has caused uproar among haulage operators after it claimed the industry was backward-looking and inefficient.
In its report UK Freight – In for the Long Haul, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers calls for the government to introduce a national multi-modal freight strategy in a move to ease traffic congestion, improve air quality and boost the economy.
Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport at the Institution, said, “The government has taken a welcome step in creating the National Infrastructure Commission, but must now urgently look to create a national multi-modal freight strategy to incentivise optimum use of that infrastructure and better co-ordinate the transportation of goods around the UK.”
“We currently have empty lorries on our roads, delivering shipping cargo to ports where demand for goods is on the other side of the country, and to wait for air cargo to undergo approval tests in other counties before being allowed to be processed through customs.”
“Estimates suggest that congestion costs the UK economy £13bn per year, with poor air quality being responsible for about 29,000 premature deaths each year.”
According to the report, up to 30% of all haulage vehicles on UK roads are empty and about 150 million miles are driven unnecessarily by lorry drivers. It claims that a national strategy could outline plans to make better use of urban consolidation centres, where joint local deliveries can be organised.
But the Road Haulage Association hit back against the report, which it described as ‘astonishing’.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said, “The number of lorries on our roads has hardly changed over many years; nor has empty running, much of which is inevitable, as the report concedes.”
“By contrast, the number of cars and vans on UK roads is rising rapidly. The idea that replacing efficiently-operated large goods vehicles with vans will reduce congestion is illogical. Lorries are good for cities.”
Burnett was also keen to address the old-fashioned reputation that stigmatises the industry. “Road haulage is a vital, IT-driven and innovative service industry that powers every sector of the UK economy,” he said. “It responds remarkably well to challenging customer requirements, despite the restrictions of tightly-defined drivers’ hours and other regulations. An already inadequate road network – the HGV driver’s main place of work – does not help the situation.
“The suggestion that road hauliers don’t know what they are doing is ridiculous. They will continue to serve the economy but they are the victims, not the cause, of increasing congestion. It’s a fact that of 35 million vehicles on UK roads, little more than 1 percent are lorries.”
The report also claims that Britain’s shipping processes are inefficient, suggesting it would make more sense to reduce the amount of feeight coming into the south of the country and instead focus of the north as a distribution hub.
It suggests that 65% of the UK population currently lives within a 150-mile radius of Liverpool Port. However, 91% of deep-sea containers enter or leave via either Southampton or Felixstowe, creating 150 million wasted road miles and 200,000 additional truck journeys moving goods to where they are needed.
These claims were refuted by the Freight Transport Association (FTA). Its Head of National and Regional Policy, Christopher Snelling, said, “These deep sea ships call at south-east UK ports as one call out of six or seven in the northern European sea corridor – that is northern France through to the Baltic. There is no prospect of them diverting en masse to north-west England. There are many great opportunities for maximising the use of ports like Liverpool for the UK supply chain, but for the IMechE to suggest in isolation that these road miles are simply done without need is misleading.”