Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840-859)
MR GRAHAM MILLER, OBE, MR JAMES HOOKHAM AND MR CHRISTOPHER WELSH
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH 2002
840. You may be in favour of it but Mr Bowker of the Strategic Plan has told us that there is not any money for conclusions for rail based Multi-Modal Studies before 2010. Does that not mean that it is likely that your members will choose to base their future business perhaps around road rather than rail because that is where they see the improvements coming?
(Mr Miller) From our point of view we would take any of these Multi-Modal Studies. We do not see them as a total investment package all being done at the same time and therefore if we could cherry-pick the bits that can be done now inside the standard planning process then we would encourage those to be done, in other words, deliver the early goals and let us wait and see if later on rail can attract new rail freight to deliver the totality of the Plan. I do not think we should be waiting ten years to see the whole Plan being delivered. There are winners to be had now and we should pick them where we can.
841. That sounds a bit like a politician's answer. The reality is surely that, if you are taking a view as a haulage company of where you are going to invest, the Multi-Modal Studies indicate that funding is going to be there for roads in the shorter term rather than for rail. Is that not going to mean that investment decisions about new termini, about new haulage equipment and so forth, are going to be taken on a bias towards the roads?
(Mr Miller) For our industry, and I am only talking of the brewing industry, the majority of our traffic is carried by road. A very small proportion of it would be able to be transferred to rail anyway, mainly because we simply do not have the bulk haulage over the long distance that would make up the kind of attractive traffic that would go on to these rail freight systems anyway. One has always got to consider one's own industry point of view and the fact that it is fairly impractical for us to move very much of our traffic by rail and we would not be contributing very much, I am afraid, to the 80 per cent increase in rail freight haulage over the 10 years that it is planned, much as we may like to.
842. As an organisation you have been in talks with the Treasury over road pricing for lorries. Is it your view that that is now a viable project and, if so, how long is it going to be before it is likely to be introduced based on the information you have?
(Mr Hookham) We have reason to believe it is technically viable and certainly will be in the timespan that the Treasury identifies of about five years. Our reaction is open-minded to this because it does represent a far more 21st century way of collecting tax from goods vehicle operators, and the use of electronic technology to do that is consistent with the way that vehicle management systems are being developed in the industry. We concluded that we needed to take this proposal very seriously given that the Treasury on the face of it appear to be satisfied that this is a sensible method of going forward to collect the revenue, and that would seem to be one of the major hurdles to be overcome.
843. Presumably it will not ease congestion because the system will not apply to cars and therefore it does not deal with the congestion issues?
(Mr Hookham) That is when most of the benefits would be arrived at, when it is being applied to cars as was recently proposed by the Commission for Integrated Transport.
844. The Central Railway Project: do you believe that it is a viable alternative, particularly from what you are saying about the brewing industry and long haul, from the point of view of the industry?
(Mr Miller) Madam Chairman, you probably saw me nodding at the back when the previous witness was present. I do believe it will be a vital freight project. It provides us with the possibility of a dedicated freight route free of interference from variable speed passenger trains. It may well not attract the kind of business that I am in but I can believe that it would be very viable for a lot of freight businesses and would allow a significant increase in capacity, particularly for traffic moving from the north west going to London and hopefully beyond. One would like to have seen the last time the rail freight suggestion for a central railway was put forward that it had garnered a bit more support from those who speak highly of investing in rail freight and perhaps had a little bit more support from those who might have voted for it rather than against it at the time.
845. As an organisation where would you put the emphasis as far as investment is concerned: on road or on rail?
(Mr Hookham) The important thing about the Ten Year Plan is that it is a co-ordinated integrated package and certainly the congestion reduction targets that are identified in there are only going to come about by all of the proposals being delivered, so we are not looking to make differentiation there other than cherry-pick the early goals, as has already been identified. The phasing may be an issue but we certainly do not discriminate between one mode and another if that achieves the targets that have been set.
846. In terms of the lobbying within your organisation would you say that it is equal, would you, in terms of your membership as far as the investment proposals are concerned? You said that you represented rail, road, air and ports; is that right?
(Mr Hookham) It is the distributors of goods who use those modes who are predominantly represented.
847. But the emphasis of your organisation is within road freight?
(Mr Hookham) It is indeed, yes.
848. So in terms of the evidence that you present it would be that the emphasis would be on the use of roads for freight?
(Mr Miller) The emphasis in our organisation is certainly not on road. We are a multi-modal organisation. Ninety per cent of the traffic that travels by rail is represented by members of the FTA. During my time as President of the FTA we brought the Chief Executive of EWS on to the FTA board at a time when in fact we were pushing for, amongst other things, 44-tonne lorries, and we also look after the British Shippers' Council and the European Shippers' Council. We have no axe to grind for any mode of transport. Indeed, the answer to your question must be that there is no single solution that we would prefer as to investment in road, rail or internal shipping or coastal shipping. It requires investment in them all, possibly exceeding the current plan, if we are going to meet the Government's targets in 10 years' time.
849. But if it were the case that you had, as the Government have, pressure groups coming from individual groups, your organisation would stay above that, would it?
(Mr Miller) Stay above it?
850. Yes, in terms of any representations that were made.
(Mr Miller) We are consulted by the Government on our views on road schemes, rail schemes and shipping and port schemes, and we like to think that we are a responsible enough organisation to give them an impartial view. We obviously represent members in all three of these modes and therefore, in order to represent our members, we will give the Government our best view on where the investment should go.
851. You are opposed to the idea of congestion charging in London. What is the main complaint in terms of that?
(Mr Hookham) Our arguments are that delivery of goods into London, or indeed any other central urban area, have no other choice but to be delivered by road to the premises involved and, given that, we view this congestion charging as merely being a tax because there is no option. Users of other modes do have that choice, public transport, for example, and therefore may be able to make a choice. For freight and services in London there is no choice and therefore this charge will have to be paid for what we see as essential services.
852. What lessons do you think have been learned for future programmes in other cities as far as your organisation is concerned?
(Mr Hookham) The case we made to the Mayor and Transport for London was that in order for London to thrive as a business centre and a major trading centre these services must be delivered and indeed improvements made in the journey times across London for these services to be delivered efficiently. Our views have not prevailed on this occasion although we are confident that the strength of those views will be seen in due course, because we want the role of freight in services movement in an urban economy to be understood. It is a vital part; it is not an added extra.
853. So you see no advantages whatsoever in terms of what the Mayor in London is doing as far as congestion charging and your industry itself is concerned?
(Mr Hookham) We do not believe that it is going to reduce the level of freight traffic in the centre of the city because that is there for other reasons, which is simply the trading necessities of the centre of London.
854. Do you think that the 10 Year Plan pays enough attention to sea and air freight modes?
(Mr Hookham) There are very important issues on sea and air freight, perhaps best addressed at European or international level, and therefore perhaps our expectations of the 10 Year Plan in this regard were somewhat muted. There are certain major issues there to be resolved which we will happily tell you about.
855. But do you think they are addressed in the Plan?
(Mr Hookham) We saw the Plan primarily addressing the issue of road congestion and the pressures that were being foreseen there, and therefore the remedy to that was not necessarily through those modes, so we did not have high expectations of what the Plan was saying.
856. You did not have high expectations, so do you mean there was not much there?
(Mr Miller) Could I say that we have co-operated with a number of the academic institutions in providing assistance in looking at coastal shipping. I work for a company based in Scotland and we are working with Heriot Watt University in the Business School there in investigating the potential for moving traffic from Scotland down the coast towards London and destinations like that. While this is an academic study, as a commercial organisation we are happy to assist them with that kind of research and if indeed there is a viable alternative and a viable opportunity and service provided, we will look at that realistically as well.
857. Does it concern you that there is not a great deal about access to ports and airports?
(Mr Welsh) Your Committee has looked at ports previously, and is just about to in a bit more detail. Access to ports has been a major problem for businesses, particularly where ports are in certain parts of the country where there is limited rail and road access. With increasing congestion problems that are arising in ports where we predict that in a few years' time with growth in international trade ports will be become a capacity problem.
858. Do you think there should be a greater input into that aspect of the 10 Year Plan for the Plan to deliver its results?
(Mr Welsh) It is a bit separate from what I understood the objectives of the 10 Year Plan to be. It does not primarily look at our external trade. The areas covering our external trade related maybe to trade with Europe and beyond, are largely subject to movement by air and sea. In coastal shipping we have done quite a lot of work in trying to promote alternatives for importers and exporters from the United Kingdom to use short sea services by promoting business performance indicators and in fact we have done a major project, for the Dutch and Swedish Governments, to bench mark performance indicators for short sea services and to give traders the opportunity to use that as a viable mode which at the moment they cannot use because it does not meet their service needs. It is not well known by business as a viable way of doing trade.
859. You stressed in the answer to a previous question your Association's spread of the different modes of freight distribution and I accept that. Setting that to one side, do you believe that the 10 Year Plan has an accurate balance in the spending between road and rail?
(Mr Hookham) The feature of the Plan which particularly appealed to industry was the prospect of a reduction in road congestion and we accept that, to use the old adage, we are not going to build our way out of congestion and that there will need to be a contribution from the other service modes. The particular targets that are set for the increase in rail passenger and rail freight patronage we can only accept as given by the Government as being what is necessary to bring about the reduction in road congestion as they have promised. So we are very much taking them at their word and supporting them as targets. It is for the Government to ensure that it delivers on that target by investing the money that it believes is necessary. It is very much the prize at the end of the day that industry will measure the success of the Plan by, not the mechanics by which it is achieved.