Government must do more to help freight industry cut emissions, NIC warns

Government must do more to boost growth and cut emissions in freight sector

Government at all levels needs to more to help the logistics sector meet growing demand, reduce congestion and cut carbon emissions, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has warned in a new report looking at the infrastructure needs of the freight sector.

The NIC, which advises the Government on key infrastructure issues, said without “dedicated and ambitious” action supported by ministers and councils, incentives will not be there to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, and if left to industry alone, the issue could take “years” to solve.

This could also impact on the country’s ability to meet wider climate change targets, the report added.

Lorries and vans cause 31 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport while lorries alone make up a quarter of all road use on the country’s motorways, the interim report claims.

 Other key issues highlighted in the report :

• The need to consider freight in spatial planning – while homes and essential services are included in local plans, freight is often overlooked.  The National Planning Policy Framework only includes two references to freight. Failing to plan and protect land for freight could result in companies “sprawling” further from city and town centres, placing them further from customers and increasing journey times, emissions and congestions

• The need for greater regulatory certainty – A more coordinated approach within and between central and local government, based on better data, will help Ministers and council leaders develop measures to tackle the impact of congestion and carbon emissions, including through more coordinated and clear regulations and standards

• Better data for informed decision-making – Detailed freight data, and particularly that relating to routes that operators take, is not usually available to policy-makers, and what is available is of variable quality.  With van traffic growing, local areas will need to make the most of opportunities such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology to improve the data available, which can then be used to design policies to support freight operators

Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said: “Our freight industry is one of the best in the world, but the incentives aren’t there to drive down its carbon footprint sufficiently quickly. It needs action from Whitehall and town halls to help make that happen.

“Our report highlights the need to tackle this through the planning system, through better regulation and through access to better data – all with the aim of helping the industry to operate in an environmentally-friendly way while at the same time delivering the services that we as customers increasingly expect.”

NIC Commissioner Bridget Rosewell said: “Our freight industry is world class – but it struggles to strike the right balance between meeting the needs of customers and the needs of the environment, particularly in the face of growing demands for ever-faster deliveries.

“Central and local government could and should do more to help operators to clean up their act, helping to cut carbon emissions and congestion and making a real difference to air quality while also delivering the services to its already high standard.”

NIC Commissioner Andy Green said: “Like the rest of the transport sector, freight operators are at the cusp of a technological revolution thanks to the development of electric, and even driverless, vehicles.  But there needs to be concerted action by both Government and industry to seize these opportunities.

 “The prize is considerable: by helping to make the most of these changes, we can continue to have a strong freight industry delivering for its customers, but one that is low carbon, with as low an impact as possible on congestion on our roads.”

The Freight Transport Association said it supported much of the report, including the need to provide operators with regulatory certainty, consider freight in spatial planning, and improve data quality to maximise freight efficiency.

Christopher Snelling, Head of UK Policy at FTA, said: “The NIC’s report is an important step towards the development and implementation of a comprehensive, long-term strategy for the logistics sector. The report recognises the competency of the sector, but understands it needs assistance to drive substantial environmental change.”

Snelling continued: “FTA speaks on behalf of its 18,000 members; they are committed to reducing their environmental impact – and have already taken significant action to this effect – but they need the government to provide the necessary infrastructure and tools to drive maximum improvement.  

“FTA supports the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation for achieving this, including: providing the logistics sector with regulatory certainty, incorporating the needs of freight operators into spatial planning, and working to drive higher data quality to maximise freight efficiency. 

However, the FTA said it was disappointed the report uses share of traffic as the metric by which to judge the sector. 

 “What is important is the value it provides to society –  road freight delivers 80% of the goods the UK needs each day – not the number of vehicles in operation,” Snelling added.

Tim Morris, Chief Executive of the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG), the trade association representing the largest commercial ports in the UK, also welcomed the report.

He said: “Freight is vital to UK industry and all our daily lives, with most main freight routes anchored on our major ports. Yet it is often a victim of its own success – overshadowed by other sectors and issues which run less smoothly. It’s great to see the NIC not only recognising the vital role freight plays but also the world class nature of the UK freight transport sectors." 

UKMPG said it particularly welcomed the NIC’s focus on the need for greater recognition of freight in strategic spatial planning.

Morris added: “UKMPG has been calling for better recognition of the UK’s Strategic Freight Network and will release research in January on the big prize to the UK from more planning and operational focus on this network.” 

A final report is due to be published by NIC in the spring.