National newspaper apologises for misrepresenting Rob

The Independent newspaper has corrected an article referring to comments made about cycle lanes by Rob. 

He asked the question whether the dedication of road space to bikes and resulting reduction in tarmac available to motorised vehicles in our cities might be adding to congestion and called for research into the subject.  The Independent’s Deputy Managing Editor, Will Gore, admitted its website had overstated Rob’s point-of-view and said he was sorry “that our reporting caused concern.” 

Rob Flello calls on Government to support local hospital in financial special measures

Following today’s announcement that University Hospital of North Midlands Trust has been placed into financial special measures, Rob is calling on the Government to ensure patient care is maintained.

Reacting to the news Rob said “It is unacceptable that less than six months after the Secretary of State for Health said he had serious concerns about the Royal Stoke hospital we are seeing the Trust go into financial special measures. This is despite the Government being aware the hospital has been at breaking point due to financial pressures for some time.

Protecting ports vital to national interest post-Brexit

Stoke-on-Trent South MP and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freight Transport, Rob Flello, says the government must keep the ports moving after Brexit or risk disaster.

He was speaking after the APPG had heard a presentation from Nicholas Scott-Gray, Chief Executive of Montrose Port Authority (MPA).  Mr Scott-Gray outlined the challenges facing his port and many others like it across the UK, saying that wrongly handled, Brexit could have dire consequences for the industry.  He said, “Tariffs, quotas and new customs clearance regulations could cause significant difficulties.”  He explained that the time taken to move goods through the port was crucial to its competitiveness.  “If we slow down customers will go somewhere else,” he said.

Budget? What Budget?

“There were rumours of a budget today although, frankly, for the transport sector, it’s hard to know if it actually happened.”
 
That’s the view of Stoke-on-Trent South MP and Transport Select Committee member, Rob Flello, who says today’s announcements were a missed opportunity by the Chancellor.
 
“In the build-up to Brexit the transport and haulage industries, upon which this country so heavily relies, needed something solid to hold on to, to give them a chance to get onto a competitive footing with our European neighbours.  Instead, they got a few half-hearted scraps which will achieve very little.  Certainly, freezing the HGV Road User Levy and Vehicle Excise Duty for hauliers is of some help as is freezing Fuel Duty, but when you bear in mind that about three-quarters of the cost at the pumps is now tax it’s very small beer.  Before the Budget Britain had the highest duty levels for fuel in the EU, and after it, it still does.”

Going back for the future to cut congestion

Rob is backing a scheme to help reduce pollution and congestion by putting high value, time-sensitive freight onto passenger trains.

The MP, who is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Freight Transport Group, says, “In these days where autonomous trains and retinal scans to track passengers are seen as glimpses of the future of rail it’s important to remember that old ideas are not necessarily bad ideas.  I’ve recently been talking to people from a company called InterCity RailFreight who are taking a concept which would be completely familiar to the Victorian rail passenger and turning it into a serious prospect for moving freight by rail and cutting road congestion.”

InterCity RailFreight began trials of their scheme in 2010 and have now become partners with two rail franchisees, GWR and East Midlands Trains, moving a wider range of commodities from fresh seafood to clinical trials samples by rail on passenger services.  These two types of cargo might seem rather disparate, but they have one thing in common, which is an urgent need to find the quickest route to their destinations.  The medical samples are moving between Nottingham and Leicester as part of clinical drug trials, and as such need to reach the London labs where they are examined as speedily as humanly possible.  The fish is coming fresh off the boat in Cornwall to be distributed to various click-and-collect points in London, ready to be cooked the same day it was hauled from the waves.  In each case, the time and cost savings are significant when compared to road transport.  The process is cheaper than using a diesel delivery van, up to 300% faster and of course, causes no more pollution than the passenger train on which they goods are carried would have already produced because, as the company slogan goes, “The train is going there anyway.”

All Party Freight group hears post-Brexit prophecies

The All Party Parliamentary Freight Transport Group of MPs has heard how changes to the way the industry functions in Britain may be slow in coming following the country’s exit from the EU.  The group heard from Ian Jones, a solicitor with long-established transport law firm, Backhouse Jones, that much existing regulation as it relates to safety is likely to stay the same post-Brexit and is unlikely to be watered down. 

For example, AETR rules on tachographs and drivers’ hours are expected to remain unaltered.  Mr Jones said that other systems like Operator licensing, predate EU membership so are also likely to be left as they are.  Whatever change does come, he said, would be very gradual when put into the context of the huge body of law up for review after Brexit.  Mr Jones said the area where the future was least clear was employment law, in particular the Working time Directive and TUPE regulations, which may be subject to eventual review.

Two wheels good, four wheels bad? Why wanting something to work doesn’t always mean it does

I caused a bit of a stir among cyclists last week for suggesting that research was needed to see whether cycle lanes in major cities reduced or increased congestion and pollution.  I was slightly mischievously misrepresented in some quarters as being “anti-cycle lanes.”  It would be much fairer to say I’m a cycle lane-sceptic.  I had some interesting and almost exclusively polite exchanges on Twitter (who says we can’t still have civilised debate in the Post Truth era?) and some keen cyclists suggested I look at some of the existing data.  So I have.

My concerns around cycle lanes and cities are broadly threefold:

  • If tarmac formerly used by vehicles is underused by bikes does that in turn cause greater congestion and pollution?
  • Why is it that as traffic volume has been falling in London congestion is getting worse? 
  • Can cycles ever do a significant proportion of the jobs currently undertaken by HGVs and vans, and if not, are their reserved lanes essentially creating more of a need for more of those larger vehicles?

For guidance, one of my twitter interlocutors pointed me towards the work of the European Cycling Logistics Federation, a part-EU funded organisation looking into contributions bikes can make to the logistics sector.  I was initially hugely impressed by a headline in its report which said that on “average 51% of all motorised trips in European cities that involve transport of goods could be shifted to bikes or cargo bikes.”  As someone who is a member of the Commons Transport Select Committee and who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freight Transport I was shocked that I wasn’t already aware of this statistic and excited at the prospect of such a potential future.  But.. and there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

Why we must stop Britain’s freight going off the rails

Go back to the 1960s and if anyone was talking about sustainability (and very few were), railways would not have figured high on anyone’s list.  What a difference fifty years makes.  Today, we wring our hands with regret over that which was lost on the word of poor, vilified Dr Beeching, whose crime was, after all, only writing the report for which he was asked.

When peering the other way, into the future of Britain’s railways, it is hard to see beyond the £56 billion (estimated so far) behemoth of HS2, the first usable part of which will not be up and running until 2026.  The final elements of the route will not be welcoming passengers until seven years after that, and passengers are all it will be welcoming.  HS2’s own literature states that: “The HS2 infrastructure has not been designed to accommodate traditional slow/heavy rail freight services.”  The Department for Transport estimates that 12 per cent of freight is moved by rail in the UK, compared to an average across Europe of more than 18 per cent and rising – the opposite of the UK trend.  HS2, on its own, will almost certainly makes things worse and not better.

That risks missing smaller, cheaper ways to improve transport capacity, boosting the economies of the regions and reducing environmental damage.  Take the GB Freight Route (GBFR) scheme.  That is a project to create a “new” dedicated freight train route from London, through the Midlands and into Scotland with a spur for Wales.  It would allow lorries to drive on and off with their loads, avoiding the current expensive and time-consuming practice of transferring goods from HGV to rail and back at the other end.  It would follow 480 miles of existing or disused track with a requirement for only fourteen “virgin” miles along the whole route.  Crucially, it would cost an estimated £6 billion, roughly 10 per cent of the HS2 budget and would take possibly five years to complete.  

Traffic down, congestion up; what’s going wrong with urban roads?

“In recent years, road users have been driving fewer miles yet their journeys are taking longer thanks to shocking congestion.  I want to know why.”

Those are the words of Stoke-on-Trent South MP and Transport Select Committee member, Rob Flello, who hopes a new investigation into urban congestion could shed some light on how to make our roads flow more freely.  The committee begins an inquiry today (Monday 9thJanuary) by hearing evidence from a number of learned experts in the field, and Rob hopes what they say could help solve the mystery which has dogged roads management for the past thirty years.

Rob says, “There’s clear data from successive reports of the National Travel Survey to show that car mileage per adult has fallen significantly over the past twenty years and is actually 10% lower than it was in the mid-2000s.  In spite of that, average traffic speeds in many towns and cities are actually falling.  Transport for London admitted recently that the stately progress of traffic in the centre of the capital dropped to a horrifying 7.8 mph last autumn.  My fear is that a lot of it might be because of an increase in the impact of roadworks and the loss of tarmac for vehicles from the introduction of cycle lanes.”

Great Wall of Calais will stand as a folly to failed Government policy

Rob says the completion of the wall to keep migrants from illegally boarding lorries on their way to Britain from France is no cause for celebration.

He says, “The Great Wall of Calais has been completed ahead of schedule and long after it might have served any of its misguided purpose.  The jungle refugee camp is no more than a memory, bulldozed into history, its former residents scattered to the four corners of France.  I’ve previously compared it to the Maginot Line, the string of supposedly impenetrable fortresses built by France after the First War to keep the Germans out.  In the event, they just went over, round or through it.  It didn’t stop the advance, and this new construction won’t stop refugees either.

“The British public has paid more than two million pounds for this useless unwanted structure.  British hauliers are still paying the price of government inability, French and British, to deal with the real problem, that of thousands of migrants desperately seeking a new life in the UK.  Does anyone seriously think the problem of illegal migration will end because the wall is complete when people have sacrificed so much to get as far as France in the first place?

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