Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)
MS HILARY CHIPPING, MR JIM BOUD, MR MIKE FREEMAN AND MR NICK CHARLESWORTH
WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002
100. Thank you that was helpful.
(Mr Freeman) A couple of points to put our background to it. You are clearly aware of the importance of road haulage to this country and its whole economy. The haulage industry is going through a very critical stage at the moment. Some of the reasons are not within the remit of this particular Committee but are very much affecting what goes on. However, certain things are subject to this particular inquiry and what we are trying to achieve always is efficient and cost-effective operations. We are getting more and more into positions imposed on us by the UK Government and by the European Union and we are now reaching a situation where we have no margin for error or flexibility in transport operations. It is crucial that what goes on at the ports helps our people move the goods to the ports and out and in certain areas it is becoming very critical at the moment. This is why we are here to try to explain this point to you.
101. In the memorandum the Highways Agency state that "considerable sums have already been invested in improving the network although admittedly few schemes are designed to cater specifically for port traffic" and that was the point you were making. Could you tell us what the special requirements of road schemes that cater specifically for ports would be?
(Ms Chipping) The way in which road schemes come forward now for consideration by the Government is through this regional planning framework, which is why I wanted to make that point initially. I am sure you are very familiar with the Government's ten-year Transport Plan and that set out the framework within which we would consider future road schemes in a multi-modal context. Several multi-modal studies are being carried out around the country, some of which relate quite specifically to ports. For example, there is one in Hull looking at the port of Hull, others which are looking at general transport issues on the road network, but clearly general congestion on a lot of our motorway network could well be in relation to freight which is actually coming from ports. So we would not necessarily just focus on ports in their own right, we are looking at the transport network as a whole and we are looking at transport priorities in a region. If, coming out of a study looking at all modes across rail, public transport or whatever, a road scheme were considered to be desirable, it would then be for the regional planning body to say which of the road or other local transport schemes in its area were of priority and that scheme would need to be assessed against the framework, the new approach to appraisal. We would be looking at all aspects, economy, environment, accessibility and such like.
102. Let me give you a forward projection. If you saw an area with a port which was clearly developing and which was growing year by year would you include that in your assessments, would you do a forward projection over a five or ten-year period?
(Ms Chipping) We would be talking to local authorities and the regions.
103. You would not leave that kind of assessment to them. You would say you had noticed that there is this development, you had considered that the plan would need to take account of the obvious growth of that port facility, or would you leave it entirely to them to decide what priorities they were setting?
(Ms Chipping) The framework within which the Government has set us to work is very reliant on the region looking at its own priorities. We in the Highways Agency are very keen to get involved at an early stage in any possible development. I have a number of teams in each region which actually mirror the borders of each Government Office region and they are talking on a daily basis with local authorities, transport groups, in that region. We would be in at the early stages of any possible development. We would be considering it within our overall strategy but it would be for the region.
104. Could you be affected by the Government's suggestions for the changes in the Green Paper on planning?
(Ms Chipping) The particular one you may be referring to is about the possible treatment of major infrastructure projects.
105. That does seem to be a quite important part of it.
(Ms Chipping) Indeed. The proposals as they stand are that the sort of projects which could be subject to parliamentary procedures rather than simply the public inquiry as at present, in the context of roads, would be new roads of more than 30 kilometres in length, although there will be some discretion if Ministers wish to suggest that some other projects are of such importance that they should be treated in that way. We are considering very carefully with our colleagues in the central Department the extent to which that provision will actually help or could possibly help with some of our major road schemes. Most of the road schemes which are coming out of multi-modal studies at the moment are not tending to be large stretches of new road as you might expect. In the context of the Government's Transport Plan we are looking at making better use of the existing network, perhaps some improvements where necessary, managing the traffic in a better way.
106. On this specific point of the major schemes.
(Ms Chipping) If there were any which fell into that category, although it could be helpful, because if Parliament assessed that there was a need for that particular piece of infrastructure then it could possibly move things along a little more quickly, we feel at the moment that there would still need to be quite a substantial amount of local consultation about the specific route. On balance at the moment we do not think it would save a lot of time in terms of delivering these projects.
107. Do you have a sense, through your experience in this country and also through that of your members elsewhere on the continent, of the difference that the quality of the road infrastructure in and out of a port makes to the relative competitiveness of a port?
(Mr Freeman) Yes, it does have an effect. One of the problems we have is not exactly to do with the infrastructure, it is our geographical position. We have problems coming into the UK, however good the infrastructure, because there are certain things which cannot be brought into the UK. That does not apply going the other way, so you can drive off in any port in Europe quite comfortably and you are straight onto a motorway set-up very, very quickly. Over here there are other restrictions and however good the infrastructure it slows you down.
108. Can you give us some examples of what you mean by the restrictions here?
(Mr Freeman) Yes, it is very simple: Customs and Excise procedures at the moment. I can quote you Portsmouth for example which is going to become a complete shambles in a few months because tremendous delays are building up there. They have new scanners in, they therefore pick more vehicles to out-turn. Portsmouth has a unique way of charging for that. Vehicles are held up for anything up to six or eight hours; I had one the other day 24 hours. This is the sort of problem.
109. Is that because of asylum seekers or drugs?
(Mr Freeman) Both. They are looking for both. The procedure at Portsmouth is different to any other port where a charge once a vehicle is out-turned is built into the port charges. It is not at Portsmouth. At Dover they also have out-turns, but cope better with them as they have more facilities. The Dover problem is that they are putting in new berths and they are getting rid of 240 parking slots which means when you get bad weather, or a strike on the other sidethis year we have had five strikes on the French side which has delayed ferriesDover is going to become a parking lot, even worse than it is at the moment. We all know about Operation Stack where the whole motorway is taken over. This is what I am getting at. I see in the next year or so tremendous build-ups of this sort of activity and also the problem that drivers are having with the Working Time Directive and the drivers' hours where the two do not actually mix. The Working Time Directive and the new proposals for hours were not worked out together and you are going to have people running out of hours as soon as they get off the ferry or, the worst thing, you are going to have people driving illegally. I am afraid that is what is going to happen.
110. Do you have a sense from the perspective of your drivers as users of the ports about scale and the relative desirability of scale? Do we have too many ports in the UK? Should we have fewer bigger ones? What would the logistical benefits of concentration of the industry in this country be?
(Mr Freeman) I cannot really answer that one.
(Mr Charlesworth) As an operator we are interested principally in easy access to the ports, both to collect and deliver containers and to drive vehicles onto the ro-ro ferries; they are slightly different in perspective. We use Dover ferries regularly and I can add that it is not just when there are strikes; there is regular traffic congestion in the town of Dover because of port problems on a more frequent basis than that. Dover is an example where ideally it would be much larger because of its position but it physically cannot be. We do appreciate that there are some difficulties. On the other hand as operators, we have to try to establish on the day before a driver's work a legal routine for the driver to operate the following day. That can be completely destroyed when he has to wait three or four hours to collect a container from a port in the morning. Delays of that type are not unknown and sometimes longer. If larger ports meant easier access then we would be in agreement with it, but we do not necessarily see that will always be the case. It is also an easing of some restrictive procedures.
111. What specifically?
(Mr Charlesworth) One of our major problems at the moment is the procedure we have to adopt to prevent illegal immigration.
112. Does that mean you support the European Directive on access to ports or not?
(Mr Freeman) I have not looked at it that closely, to be honest. I would find it very difficult to comment on it.
113. Normally we would not give you this leeway, but it would be helpful if you could find it possible to look quite quickly at this and give us a note.
(Mr Freeman) I am sure our head of policy has.
114. I am sure you will have found this afternoon quite instructive.
(Mr Freeman) Yes.
115. Ms Chipping, you have referred quite extensively to congestion and motorways and the impact that would have on moving goods in and out of ports. I live near the M62 which couples the East ports to the West ports. There is tremendous congestion. It must cost the road haulage people millions of pounds. What are you doing about it?
(Ms Chipping) Our approach to congestion generally is set out in the ten-year plan which I will briefly outline. We are looking at studies, both multi-modal studies covering the most congested parts of our network and also we have some specifically road-based studies focusing on where road schemes are considered to be possible solutions to the problems. The Highways Agency itself is carrying out what we call route-management strategies, which will cover all of our core network by 2004. We are looking in detail at our roads. We are also drawing up our national strategy where, as you say, we shall be picking out those routes which are most congested and looking at ways of dealing with them. We have a very big programme of investments over the ten-year period. The Government has allocated over ,20 billion to road schemes and, subject to decisions coming out of the multi-modal studies, we are programmed to deliver those. In terms of the specific schemes which have come out, how we will deal with the most congested parts of the network, it will depend on the regional planning bodies' views about priorities in their areas and each scheme has to be looked at on the basis of the five criteria which are part of the full appraisal process.
116. The congestion I referred to is not recent. It has been taking place now for a number of years. The situation is that three lines of traffic are down to 30 miles per hour in peak periods. To say that the Highways Agency is looking at this is not good enough. These people are trying to move goods in and out, part of the export trade we have and the Highways Agency is just watching traffic stand on motorways.
(Ms Chipping) I do appreciate that it must appear like that to people who use the network regularly and it is our road users whom we are here to serve. If I may say so, in 1998, when the Government published its Transport White Paper, a lot of potential road schemes had been around for some years. The Government decided that they wanted to look carefully at existing road schemes, not necessarily assume that road schemes were the best way to deal with congestion. We now have an overall policy towards integrated transport, increasing the use of rail for freight.
117. There is very little rail freight from East to West in Yorkshire. That would not apply.
(Ms Chipping) We have to look across all of the network. The way in which we then deal with the most congested
118. Looking across the whole network would not help the ports of Hull and Immingham and Liverpool where the goods are mainly moving by road.
(Ms Chipping) We do have specific schemes going across to Liverpool; the Deeside junction schemes which have been announced, which were part of studies in the North West of the country. We do have a multi-modal study being carried out in Hull at the moment which is nearing a conclusion but there are some very difficult issues around that.
119. There is no budget for rail improvements in the department resulting from multi-modal studies.
(Ms Chipping) For road schemes there is. In Hull a particular scheme is already being carried out but the road which goes over the river to the port is the issue which is really being considered at the moment. There are several options which will come out of the study and there is funding for all of the road schemes which are coming out of multi-modal studies.