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Engineers put a spanner in logistics works

By: Dave Robbins
21 July 2016

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (iMechE) has set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons with its recently published report, ‘UK Freight: In for the long haul’.

The report reckons that a national strategy looking at the entire range of freight delivery methods is needed to reduce congestion, improve air quality and, perhaps most importantly in these post-Brexit days, boost the economy. According to the report, congestion costs the UK economy £13bn a year and the resultant poor air quality is responsible for about 29,000 premature deaths a year.

Suggestions in the report of where the road transport & logistics industry could make improvements include ‘empty running’. “Up to 30% of all haulage vehicles are running empty,” it states. “This results in about 150 million miles per annum being driven unnecessarily.” The report recommends a national strategy that would make use of urban consolidation centres, from which joint local deliveries could be made.

The report also notes that 91% of goods arriving by ship go to either Southampton or Felixstowe – both ports situated in the South East of the UK. Demographics show that nearly two thirds of the population live within a 150 mile radius of the Port of Liverpool. Shifting more shipping to the North West could, it reckons, save 200 million annual lorry miles and make a significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

On the face of it, commonsense advice. However, as the FTA’s Chris Snelling points out, there’s a bit more to it than that. “The 30% empty running figure isn’t representative as it includes petrol and milk tankers returning to base. They have to run empty because there is literally nothing else you can put in them. As for the use of South East ports; deep sea ships call at ports in the North Sea, from Northern France to the Baltic. So there’s no prospect of them diverting en masse to the North West.”

He adds: “The logistics industry is working hard to maximise efficiency and minimise social impacts like pollution. There are some good ideas and useful points in the report that IMechE has produced today. It is just a shame that in its press release it has chosen to draw attention to assertions that do not make a useful contribution to the debate.

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