Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  360.  What effect will that have on existing freight railways? Given that you have embraced rail as members, what is the effect going to be on EWS, or anyone else for that matter, for freight on the railways, with the likely introduction of the 44-tonne truck?
  (Mr Hookham)  We understand the case which EWS have made and the headline figure which they have used.

  361.  So what is that figure?
  (Mr Hookham)  I believe they say 20 per cent, but we have not been told any further details on that.

  362.  It is not a case of being told. As an association which embraces rail, surely you should have that information to hand and realise the implications of what you are making as representations to have 44-tonne trucks operating, which are going to destroy our roads, instead of going and maintaining itself on rail. You are taking 20 per cent of your business of freight off rail back to road. That cannot be good for the environment and it is certainly not going to do very much good to the idea that the Government have of an integrated transport policy, is it?
  (Mr Hookham)  I would contest some of the points which you make there, but I think the key thing is that we are looking for efficiency, we are looking to reduce the number of lorries, the amount of emissions, the number of journeys which are being made. By increasing the payload by an increase in the maximum lorry weight, that would create an undeniable saving simply because I think it is self-evident that you would be able to deliver the same quantity of goods in fewer vehicles. We hear what the EWS and other operators say, and we would like to look at that in more detail, but they have never given any further details of that. Until we understand which sectors they believe are vulnerable to that, I do not think a more informed position can be taken, which we are more than happy to look at. In the areas where we know, because our members tell us, that they will be able to reduce the number of lorry journeys, many of those operations, as Lawrence described, would not be amenable to carriage by railway anyway. So I think we are looking across the modes, we are looking at what can actually deliver real efficiencies very quickly. There is no doubt that increasing lorry weights so you can increase the payload of each vehicle would deliver that, and it would deliver it overnight if it were to be introduced.

  363.  It does seem to me that you stick very rigidly to your traditional membership.
  (Mr Christensen)  I think the best response I can give to this question—and I do not think the EWS, with whom we work closely, would disagree with this—is that if every piece of freight that you could get on the railways went on the railways tonight, then road transport would reduce by something around 5 per cent.

  364.  It is a fair saving, is it not?
  (Mr Christensen)  Yes, but then there is the other 95 per cent where a 44-tonne lorry would have a greater effect than the amount of freight that you are moving onto the railways. So I see the two things as not being in competition at all.

Chairman:  We may have some argument on that.

Mr Stringer

  365.  The section in your submission entitled "Road Network" is very gently worded, but do I take it that you fundamentally disagree with the Government's policy of not building more roads to deal with traffic congestion?
  (Mr Hookham)  We certainly do not see anything in the Government's policy which is going to make a difference to the fact that the road network is getting more congested. Whilst we fully support, and our submissions on the White Paper itself made very clear, that our priorities were first to make the best of what we have got, we welcome the initiatives in terms of maximising throughput and flow on the existing network, but I think there comes a point where the only practical method for solving what are becoming serious bottlenecks in the country's road transport system may well be not necessarily new construction but the physical construction of new capacity. That is what we are looking for. I think we made the point just now in respect of railways that we are looking for capacity to ensure that the reliability of the system, be it road or rail, can be assured into the future, so that planning decisions can be made with more certainty than they can at the moment.

  366.  So to be clear, you think that the Government should be spending more money on building more capacity, more new roads?
  (Mr Hookham)  Yes indeed.

  367.  Thank you for that. Do you believe that road hauliers should pay the full costs which can be attributed to their lorries?
  (Mr Hookham)  I think they should certainly pay their wear and tear costs in terms of the fact that there is an impact obviously which a lorry has on the infrastructure, and we believe that that is already covered—in fact, in some cases more than covered—through the existing VED structure. If you then extend the argument into recovering the external costs, what are you actually trying to achieve? If you are going to try to bring more efficiencies into the transport system and trying to make them make fewer emissions by reducing their journeys, simply putting up the price is not the best way of doing that. You want to direct actions by more clear policies than simply recovering more money from them. So we are more concerned with what the final goal is.

  368.  Do you have any evidence that if excise duty were to go up, operators would register abroad? That has been mooted by road hauliers. Do you have any direct evidence of that?
  (Mr Dossetter)  It is a fact that the VED prices in the United Kingdom are very substantially higher than anywhere else in Europe. If you take the case of the 38-tonne vehicles, the price in the United Kingdom is £3,210, and in France, just across the water, we are looking at £500. That does concentrate the mind of those operators who are running a large number of those maximum-size vehicles. You come back to the relationship of vehicle excise duty. The fact is that a 38-tonne vehicle pays about £22,000 a year in tax. That is about double the price which is operative in the rest of Europe. That does not make us particularly competitive if we are dealing with our European rivals.

  369.  Is there any evidence that any companies are moving there?
  (Mr Dossetter)  I think many companies are seriously looking at the detail of this matter. It is something the FTA is itself looking at and investigating at the moment, but I do not think we have an answer on that.


  370.  If you have detailed information, would you be prepared to give that to the Committee?
  (Mr Dossetter)  Yes indeed. I believe this matter is being investigated by others within the industry.

Mr Olner

  371.  Could I come back to road usage in more detail. We spoke about quality partnerships. What would you expect local authorities to provide as part of the quality partnership for freight?
  (Mr Christensen)  One of the things that would be a big benefit both for what the Government is trying to achieve and also industry would be if we were able to utilise our road network more efficiently and more effectively. There are a lot of occasions, particularly at night, where the roads are necessarily empty and we are not allowed on them because something like 50 per cent of our stores have curfews where we are not allowed to deliver to those stores between ten at night and six in the morning. That means that most of my lorries are pushed onto the roads exactly when you do not want them to be there and I do not want them to be there, because that is when they are least efficient.

  372.  So you want the local authorities to roll over and give you complete freedom to do what you want?
  (Mr Christensen)  No.

  373.  That is their part of the partnership, is it?
  (Mr Christensen)  No. When I say "partnership" I mean partnership. What I am seeing is a best-practice scenario that providing we sign a contract—I use that word loosely—with local authorities as to what we will seek to do at our stores, what kind of vehicles we will use to deliver to the stores, and as long as we comply with that, then yes, we would be allowed to deliver to the stores on a 24-hour basis.

  374.  Could you broaden it a bit more? You only have 50 per cent of the hauliers in your membership anyway. Whilst yours is a big company, it is only a part of the membership of the FTA, is it not?
  (Mr Christensen)  Yes.

  375.  How are you going to do it globally—Safeway, Tesco, Co-Op? How are you going to embrace all these within quality partnerships?
  (Mr Christensen)  What we have done—and we started about 18 months ago—is that we have set up working parties with local authorities in key towns across the country, where environmentalists are involved, the local authority full-time and the elected officials are involved, and the FTA members are involved. They look at each individual town on its own, specifically to find out what the problems are, and they discuss and agree a way to resolve those problems. That has happened in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Southampton, Chester. They were the pioneer towns for this, and we had great success. That has now been rolled out to significantly more towns and cities across the country.

  376.  What is the freight industry's contribution in those quality partnerships?
  (Mr Christensen)  The freight industry's contribution is to discuss with them the technical problems that we have in making efficient deliveries into their town centres. The environmentalists and the local councils put back their arguments or points on what we are doing to impact upon their environment, and we tried to find ways to work together to overcome those difficulties.

Christine Butler

  377.  In present market conditions, transport of freight by road is still by far the cheapest option, and so there is a desire to cling to that. Even then you are talking about making technical efficiencies which will provide cost savings to the industry. One of the obstacles within the road haulage movement is that you are saying quite clearly, as we understand it, that congestion causes the industry a lot of problems, so we are now talking about the cheapest option of moving freight, and that one of the obstacles even then is to do with congestion. We all know about the environmental impact of that. Why do you not want to be part of a road-pricing policy that would mitigate against congestion?
  (Mr Hookham)  Because I think we start from the point of why are the vehicles there, why are those lorries on the road? They are there to do a job. In respect of urban road pricing, they are there to deliver goods and services to the trading community in the centres of towns and cities. It does not make sense to make those activities any more expensive than they need to be, because it simply adds to the costs of trading in those towns and cities.

  378.  Have you an assessment at all of the amount of money it costs to have lorries held up in traffic jams? I am often held up myself in traffic jams and I see the congestion. I do not know what the costs are, but perhaps your industry does.
  (Mr Hookham)  The costs are very substantial overall—somewhere around a figure of £20 billion.

  379.  Compared to road pricing?
  (Mr Hookham)  Yes. A supplementary point I want to make is that it is important to identify why the lorries are there, that they need the priority to gain access and they should not be made more expensive than they need to be. On the other hand, business is more used to spending money to gain tangible benefits. Perhaps if a case can be made with a local authority within a quality partnership that, in order to achieve real improvements in efficiency and delivery efficiency, then a case can be made on which there is an assured return in terms of improvements, I think business would be prepared to look at that, because that is the way it trades and it looks at these things.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 22 February 1999