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A little local difficulty...

12 December 2012

Freight transport can be dangerous, intrusive and unwelcome but local regulation is over the top.To correct this, Geoff Dossetter urges industry to get involved in local planning

Freight transport can be dangerous, intrusive and unwelcome but local regulation is over the top.To correct this, Geoff Dossetter urges industry to get involved in local planning

A professional lifetime spent in transport and related industries has lead me to conclude that we simply do not get our fair share of public recognition for what it is that we do to make the wheels of the world go round. At the risk of sounding a bit pathetic, I really do think that 'nobody understands us'.

Of course, a poor public image, and that is what freight and logistics generally has, is not just about outside people failing to notice how smart, vital and essential we are. It is about how we operate on a practical daily basis. It is about the regulations which are made to restrict or inhibit or control the work of our vehicles and our personnel. And, at the end of the day, it is also about the efficiency with which we are allowed to operate and, consequently, about the actual costs of those operations.

Our work takes us into all sorts of environments which we share with the general public. And I mean the general public in all of its forms - residents, pedestrians, workers, shoppers, motorists. People who are trying to sleep, people who don't appreciate a lot of noise, or a lorry outside their front door. People only concerned with their own job. People who simply don't understand what we do and why we do it.

This is extremely ironic. Nobody wants the lorry. But everybody wants what's on board the lorry. A motorist sharing the road with a supermarket artic may well moan that the truck is causing congestion and making him late for work. Unfortunately he seldom makes the link to acknowledge that tomorrow's breakfast is probably on board.

Sadly there is nothing new in this reality because the industry has suffered from this poor image for many years, probably as a result of the enormous growth in car ownership and the competition for the inadequate supply of road space. But just how far down the pecking order freight transport has reached became clear to me when I had a look at the Government's latest guidance notes on the implementation of Local Transport Plans (LTPs), published last July. The notes are designed to help local authorities, and the officials that work for them, in what they should be doing, and how they should be doing it, regarding their statutory obligations for organising and implementing local traffic arrangements.

Local authorities are told that, when considering their policy, they must consult with a variety of groups. They must talk to bus and rail operators, public transport user groups, local councils and 'any other groups of people' that they consider appropriate.

Helpfully they list the sort of groups which they have in mind and mention environmental organisations, disability groups etc. Incredibly, freight fails to get a mention as part of this consultation process until into Chapter 3 of the 48 page document. And then it is relatively cursory. The fact that our industry is all about providing bricks for construction, stocks for the shops, materials for the factories, fuel for the garages, supplies for schools and offices, and all the rest of the thousand and one jobs we do every day, seems to be way down on the list of planning requirements for our towns and cities.We are low priority.

Because of our ancient society, and the way in which our town and city layouts have evolved over hundreds of years, we are obliged to develop and amend the way in which freight transport operations are incorporated into our road, traffic and building regulations in a piecemeal way in order to match technological progress with environmental concern. Fair enough. For example, we do not want to allow 44 tonne lorries to operate on unsuitable residential side streets. Of course we don't. But our town halls do seem to err on the side of caution when considering some of the controls imposed on us - weight or width limits, night or other delivery limits, loading and unloading bans, traffic controls, access restrictions, environmental intrusion and much more.

In fact sometimes it seems that local councils are not planning for freight deliveries - more like they're planning against them! Local councils must recognise that their towns and cities, and the citizens who live and work there, are heavily dependent on the work we do. Planning for freight should not be an end of the day afterthought, but a top priority.

There has been some progress over the last ten or fifteen years. We have seen the implementation of Freight Quality Partnerships where the industry, local authority and environmental groups come together in order to look at the problems and find a mutually acceptable compromise solution. But there have not been enough of such schemes.

What is clear is that it is absolutely necessary for the industry itself to take the trouble to improve not just its citizen friendly image, but to explain to the world and his wife what exactly it is that we do and why it is that we do it. And that includes getting involved with local council planners and explaining our needs and our problems. That is up to all of us.

Sadly, unless and until we do, then I fear that we are going to have to deal with many regulations that are frequently unnecessary and overbearing.