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NIC: Framework for freight should be acknowledged in planning system

Words: Laura Edgar
Freight planning / iStock-624911856

Measures to reduce the freight network’s carbon footprint and congestion should be set out at all levels of the UK’s planning system, according to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The commission acknowledges that the UK’s freight system is “one of the most efficient in the world”, but its contributions to congestion and pollution will only get worse if not addressed.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the NIC, said: “Whether it’s retailers, manufacturers or each of us as consumers, we all rely heavily on our freight industry. As one of the most efficient in the world, it rarely fails to deliver.

“But we are paying the price for this miracle of modern service through the impact on our environment and air quality, and through congestion on our roads. Government must act to help businesses tackle these issues.

“The report says we need to set out bold plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel HGVs, bring emissions from freight on both road and rail to zero and give the industry greater visibility in Whitehall and town halls.”

Better Delivery: The Challenge for Freight finds that it is possible to decarbonise road and rail freight by 2050 using new technologies and recognising the industry’s needs in the planning system. This will require the government to outline “clear, firm objective” and it must begin to work with the energy sector, freight industry and local areas so that the infrastructure required for alternative fuels and land for efficient freight operations is available where and when it is needed.

The government should produce new planning practice guidance on freight that better supports strategic policymaking authorities to plan for efficient freight networks to serve homes and businesses. The guidance should be prepared by the end of 2020. The NIC recommends that the guidance should provide and protect sufficient land and floor space for storage and distribution activities based on population and economic need.

To manage congestion arising from the freight industry (which the commission believes will increase on roads by between 18 per cent and 54 per cent), the report says the government should provide clear guidance for local planners, as well as better freight data, to “help in developing policies that ultimately embed freight into development plans and city infrastructure planning”.

Increasing capacity by building or widening roads “is not a long-term solution” to tackle congestion in urban areas. Emerging approaches, such as consolidation centres, have shown that they can reduce freight trips in congested areas, according to the report, but commercial viability and industry appetite are challenges to them being fully rolled out.

Where the business case supports consolidation centres, local authorities should use the planning system to make land available. They should also consider the case for funding land and construction of them, or subsidising operations in the short term, the NIC suggests.

In addition, local authorities should include a plan for urban freight in infrastructure strategies they are developing to manage peak congestion.

To achieve a clean, low-cost freight industry by 2050, the government and the industry should work together to embrace alternatives to diesel, says the commission. Vans are turning to electric batteries, but nothing is set for HGVs and rail. The government should commit to achieving zero freight emissions by 2050 and identify the infrastructure requirements to support the transition, giving the freight and vehicle industries time to plan and adapt. For rail, the commission added, this will include further detailed work to identify the optimum overall solution.

Better Delivery: The Challenge for Freight can be found on the NIC website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock