Thursday, May 27, 2010

Government Changes May Cause Problems For Freight Transport

Decentralization could prove a Pothole for Truck Industry
Shipping News Feature

UK – Generally the promises of the new coalition government to disburse more power to the regions and decentralize control giving local bodies more say in the running of their own affairs seems to have been welcomed by the public. The liberalisation may however hide problems which come to the surface over the coming months, and the humble freight driver and his or her commercial transport employer may pay the price.

With the freedom to control transport activities in any given county or constituency comes a risk that the “Not in my backyard” brigade may influence policy which has previously been state controlled. We recently featured the return of truck stops in the United States to certain areas after they had been closed by a previous administration. If not handled carefully Britain faces a problem which the US is still trying to resolve namely federal versus local legislation.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) were quick to point out this week the potential pitfalls which the decentralization and localism bill, announced in the Queen’s speech* this week, may contain. Malcolm Bingham, FTA’s Head of Road Network Management Policy, said:

“Although it sounds nice in principle, by giving local councils ultimate authority over planning decisions there is a risk that those tough decisions that need to be made for the good of the country’s strategic transport network as a whole will be pushed to one side.

“Even Whitehall recognizes that the current planning process has effectively led to gaps in lorry parking on the Strategic Road Network. A national strategy for the provision of secure and safe roadside facilities will ensure that provision is made in the most appropriate locations.

“There are some very good truck stops in the UK, but not enough along the UK’s road network to provide drivers with the level of safety and the amenities they require. As well as the threat of truck theft from organised criminal gangs it is important to impress on policy makers that well-rested drivers mean safer roads, for all of us.”

The problems will not stop with drivers unable to find a place to park however. Major schemes such as road/rail intermodal terminals already have enough problems obtaining planning permission, with local authorities often overruled by the incumbent government. If the new proposals remove this option there is likelihood that local interests will hold sway in matters of national importance. If the UK is to improve its transport infrastructure to reduce reliance on road transport for shipping freight throughout the UK and into Europe, as most consider essential, careful thought must be given to national priorities.

As Chris MacRae, FTA’s Rail Freight Policy Manager, said this week:

“Investing in rail is key if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction targets, but if freight is unable to get on and off the network at the right place then this money will be wasted. For this reason it is crucial that the planning system for rail freight terminals is not made any more protracted than it currently is.”

 * 16th Paragraph “A Bill will be introduced to devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions. Legislation will be introduced to stop uncompleted plans to create unitary councils.”