FREIGHT TRANSPORT (HC 249)
The Government must invest more in improving the freight transport infrastructure given its importance to the national economy, the Transport Committee concludes.
In a report published today, Freight Transport, the Committee says issues of competition, the imperative to reduce congestion on the roads and environmental concerns cannot be left to the market to provide all the solutions and that the Government needs to provide more strategic direction.
In particular, it wants to see more done to encourage goods to be shipped around the UK instead of being dropped at south-east ports then taken by lorry north. This means improving infrastructure to the Northern ports.
MPs are also calling on the Government to resume efforts to address the long-running competitive disadvantage faced by UK hauliers as a result of the relatively high fuel taxes levied in this country.
On the railways, The Committee warns Network Rail must not treat freight as the poor relation.
Chairman of the Transport Committee Louise Ellman said: "The Government has embraced the idea that, if the freight industry is left entirely to the market, a system resulting in the perfect, most efficient transportation of freight will emerge. However, that approach ignores other priorities, such as regional regeneration, employment, the wealth gap and the environment. The Government should not be a helpless bystander."
"It is now urgent for the Government to produce an environmentally-aware and business-friendly freight strategy that assists the national and regional economies."
It is not sustainable to make an ever-greater investment in infrastructure to cope with demand in the South East, although it might temporarily mitigate the congestion caused by demand for new capacity, says the Committee.
Instead, the Government needs to recognise that supporting port infrastructure in the regions assists regional regeneration as well as reducing congestion.
For example, if all the container traffic that passes through Felixstowe destined for the north of England were to be transported by coastal shipping, 2 billion tonne kilometres of freight would be removed from road and rail.
In addition, the inland waterway network run by British Waterways, which is sponsored by Defra, should become a Department for Transport responsibility so that it can become a serious part of the strategic transport network.
MPs also want to see rail and water freight compete on an equal footing by having the same access to the Sustainable Development Fund.
A method must be devised to remove continental hauliers' competitive advantage over their British counterparts, says the Committee. It warns it is patently unfair that UK hauliers are left at a disadvantage compared to continental competitors through high levels of taxation on fuel, eight years after the Government announced proposals to address the problem.
The Road Haulage Association estimates that UK hauliers pay between £10,000 and £15,000 per HGV more on fuel duty than their Continental competition. And the Committee warns the situation is set to get significantly worse with the rising cost of oil and the fact the European Union is trying to remove restrictions on freight transport operations carried out within one member state by hauliers from another EU country.
On out of hours deliveries, the Committee would also like to see a relaxation of blanket delivery bans.
The Committee supports the Government's efforts to secure the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, noting that UK air freight increased by 40 per cent in the ten years from 1995, and wants the Government to publish a timetable of when this could occur.
MPs also want the importance of UK air freight operators' competitiveness with European rivals recognised and warn the UK economy could suffer if UK airports become less attractive in comparison to the major Continental airfreight hubs. There has been some evidence of UK-based companies trucking goods to and from continental airports.
The Committee wants attempts to improve freight operations treated with as much urgency as proposals relating to passengers. While there were examples of freight being transferred to rail, MPs heard that the cost of rail is prohibitive.
While Network Rail might aspire to improve the service it offers to its freight customers, it does not appear to have much of an idea of how to go about doing so. The Committee wants to see Network Rail publish a strategy for improving performance for freight.
1. Committee Membership is as follows: Mrs Louise Ellman (Chairman) (Liverpool Riverside), Mr David Clelland (Tyne Bridge), Clive Efford (Eltham), Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Mr John Leech (Manchester Withington), Mr Eric Martlew (Carlisle), Mr Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin), David Simpson (Upper Bann), Mr Graham Stringer (Manchester Blackley), Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne).
2. Transcripts of evidence sessions for the Committee's inquiries can be found on the Committee website at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtran.htm
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