Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Freight Body Welcomes Investment in Road, Rail and Water Haulage

Safety Issues Also a Priority
Shipping News Feature

UK – IRELAND - The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has recently praised the latest announcements from the UK and Scottish Governments regarding levels of investment in both infrastructure improvements in Northern Ireland, a relief for many road haulage outfits, and additional funds made available under the Scottish Freight Facilities Grant scheme.

Yesterday Sammy Wilson, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Finance, announced a near £600 million package of infrastructure improvements to include over half the money to upgrade two sections of the A5 between Londonderry and Strabane, as well as Ballygawley and Omagh plus £57 million on improvements to the A2 Belfast to Carrickfergus route and £105 million on the notorious 14 kilometre stretch of single carriageway section of the A8 between the Port of Larne and Belfast which will now become dual carriageway as lobbyists have long campaigned for.

The stretch of road has witnessed many serious accidents over the years including numerous fatalities, usually due to the lack of overtaking opportunities and Tom Wilson, FTA’s Head of Policy for Northern Ireland, said:

“The A8 is a strategically significant trade route, but one which has lacked capacity to cope with the sheer volume of lorries that rely on this route to reach Larne Port. It is an absolutely essential link in our supply chain between businesses on the island of Ireland and large freight hubs in northern England and Scotland. This funding will go a long way to improve Ireland's connectivity and finally make the A8 fit for purpose. Typically, slower-moving agricultural vehicles do cause long tailbacks on this road and motorists do take risks when overtaking tractors, combine harvesters and the like, dualling will reduce instances of risky overtaking.

“Investment in infrastructure brings with it great returns on investment, and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s decision to focus most of its spend on two vital trade corridors will pay dividends. Better roads and infrastructure will not only encourage investment from overseas and overall connectivity, but mean lower fuel costs and more reliable journey times, giving hauliers, local businesses and motorists alike a welcome boost.”

The FTA take road safety ever more seriously and it is only two weeks since Freight Transport Association Ireland (FTAI) signed up to the European Road Safety Charter (ERSC) to promote safer driving practices among commercial vehicle operators in the Republic of Ireland’s logistics sector. The organisation’s Aidan Flynn invited FTAI members to sign up to the initiative in a bid to make the Republic’s roads safer. The ERSC is an EU initiative which requires signatories to agree to carry out concrete actions and share their good practices in order to resolve the road safety problems that they encounter in their day-to-day environments.

Meanwhile Chris MacRae, FTA’s Head of Policy in Scotland has praised the Scottish Government’s latest announcement that there will be an additional £4.5 million in funding for the Freight Facilities Grant which is open to applications for funding of rail and water facilities in Scotland meeting specific criteria. This comes after scathing criticism in January from rail freight interests such as the Rail Freight Group. The total three year budget will now be £7.25 million to be spread £0.75 million for 2012-2013 and £2.0million for 2013-2014 with the extra funds coming on stream in 2014 – 2015. Mr MacRae said:

“This additional announcement of funding is good news. This is especially so at a time of recession and it should be remembered that in England the equivalent grant has been completely ended. This grant is essential to helping achieve the Scottish Government’s challenging carbon reduction targets: switching freight movement to rail or water is an essential element of this and these grants help this, in addition to the separate revenue support grant regime.”

The FTA’s spokesman was not altogether enthusiastic however pointing out that the uncertainty surrounding future funding was an essential factor in lowering business confidence in an industry where long term planning was always a major factor. He concluded:

“Over the last few years the revenue support grant has seen a declining profile and the Freight Facilities Grant has been subjected to cuts, withdrawal and then re-instatement. This form of stop/go announcement of funding does not give certainty to business when making long term investment decisions in which this form of funding can be essential. While we really do welcome this additional funding announcement, it is important that business has certainty about funding levels going forwards so that it can properly plan.”

Photo:- Aerial view of the Port of Larne.