Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Road Haulage Group Starts Campaign to Stop Road Tolls for A14 Vital Freight Link

Operators Say Scheme Resembles Blackmail with Bridge Destruction Leaving No Viable Alternative Route
Shipping News Feature

UK – It is common in the UK for people to run campaigns such against an attack on Syria and the like, and usually these are supported by an e-petition, objections to the current Badger Cull garnered well over 300,000 signatures, a British record by some way*, before being closed down**. Two of the problems objectors face however are multiple petitions all on the same subject which can result in a watering down of the argument (it takes 100,000 names before the matter might be raised in Parliament), and getting the word out to those who have an interest. Now the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has stepped up its efforts to bring the tolls to be imposed on freight interests using the A14 in East Anglia, to the notice of truck operators and the wider public.

Further to the announcement of the Department for Transport’s proposal to implement the tolls on a stretch of the planned new A14, the Huntingdon southern bypass, the (RHA) is launching a sticker campaign against the plan. The proposal has already drawn strong criticism from hauliers in the region and last week the RHA said that it amounted to an attack on the economy in East Anglia and now the organisation is offering, free of charge, two types of sticker, one long horizontal, the other portrait-shaped, to accommodate the variety of types of commercial vehicle and trailer.

As far as an e-petition is concerned, there are currently at least seven on line concerning the A14*** and these do effectively dilute the vote, although all are currently at a very early stage. The plans to demolish the bridge on the current route, effectively removing any economic alternative to using the toll road, a point some local haulage contractors have called 'blackmail'. The RHA has set out its own arguments clearly with seven points it feels are worth mentioning saying that if implemented, the scheme would:

● Put hauliers in East Anglia and Suffolk at a disadvantage against firms elsewhere

● Amount to a tax on business as a whole in East Anglia and Suffolk, as hauliers would seek to pass on the additional costs

● Undermine the competitiveness of the Port of Felixstowe and other ports in the region by adding to the cost base of haulage to and from the port

● Add to the Red Tape burden on industry

● Undermine the movement of people and service vans between the two sides of the toll road

● Eliminate the current A14 as an alternative to be used if there is a hold-up caused by an accident

● Be an expensive way of generating revenue

● Set a very worrying precedent for the development of a patchwork of local tolls on the Highways Agency network.

The government attitude to road tolls has engendered many arguments of late with seemingly no countrywide policy regarding the cost of road use across the UK. Despite decades of promises that the Thames crossings at Dartford and Thurrock would eventually be free of charges, motorists have watched them rise steadily since the first tunnel opened way back in 1963 and, just this week, there is another row brewing with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) objecting about comments made by a Welsh government adviser saying tolls from the two Severn bridges should fund a new M4 relief road. In a statement to mark the start of the sticker campaign RHA Director of Policy Jack Semple compared the A14, which is the only viable link to or from Felixstowe docks for many truckers, to other crossings, saying:

“The proposal is, in effect, to create something with much the same effect as the Dartford, Severn or Humber crossings. To ensure drivers have no practical alternative to the tolled road, the DfT is even planning to demolish a bridge on the current A14 so that through traffic has no practical alternative to paying the toll - other than not to travel. When David Cameron told the House of Commons that he wanted to see the DfT building roads, he surely did not mean destroying perfectly sound road infrastructure in the process.

“The tolling proposal stands on its head the logic of the Chancellor’s recent reduction in tolls at the Humber Bridge in order to boost business. Here we have no major bridge to build, just the imposition of a toll that will damage the economy locally and in the region as a whole. The DfT’s basic commitment to making much-needed and over-due improvements to the A14 route is welcome. But hauliers view the charging plan as both unwelcome and unnecessary. It sets a worrying precedent for the future, which could see the evolution of a patchwork of tolls.”

Copies of the free stickers will be available by emailing campaigning@rha.uk.net

* Having finished its allotted time with 303,967 signatures the vote against the badger cull exceeded the previous highest by almost 50,000 votes.

** Another e-petition was started immediately the last one finished and is open for voting until September 2014.

***Currently the seven petitions can be seen HERE or by typing A14 into the e-petition website.