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?

Grayling plans mark return to nineteenth century rail

 “The next time the Transport Secretary comes to the Commons to talk about railways I half expect him to be sporting mutton chop whiskers and a stovepipe hat.”

That’s the response from Rob to Chris Grayling’s plans for joint management between operating companies and Network Rail.

“It harks back to the early days of the railways when competing lines ran from London to Brighton, for example.  It’s just the latest crazy attempt by a Tory government to make sense of probably the most botched privatisation of them all,” he says.  “This is a desperate attempt to sell off the rail network one little bit at a time – presumably in the hope that no one will notice it’s happening.  It’s not even as if it’s a new idea.  Remember the privatised disaster that was Railtrack and how the last Labour government had to rescue that?”

Rob, who also chairs the All Party Group on Freight Transport says that once again, the people being ignored in the Department of Transport’s latest cunning plan are the public. 

Smart Motorways needed to fight “Attack of the Cones”

Rob has welcomed government plans to try to reduce cone-induced motorway misery for drivers, but says so much more could be done to keep Britain moving.

Roads Minister, John Hayes, has announced a pilot plan to see whether the speed limit in roadworks could be increased from fifty to sixty miles per hour and to limit coned-off lanes to a maximum of ten miles.  Rob says it’s a good idea but simply doesn’t go far enough.

Rob says, “It’s good that government is looking at this but the minister’s suggestion is just not sophisticated enough.  Speed limits through roadworks should be variable so that drivers are kept to fifty on safety grounds when workers are present but raised to sixty-five when they’ve all gone home for the day.  However, even if that were done it’s still a bit of a sticking plaster solution to the wider problem of our ageing, crowded major roads.”

Rob wants to see an extension of the smart motorways policy which has been so effective on the M42 and M25 whereby variable speed limits are enforced to keep traffic moving as best it can in differing conditions.

Rob Flello MP calls for national roads renaissance

Research out today shows Britain’s roads are the most congested in Europe.  Data company, Inrix, monitored traffic in 123 cities across the continent and found that nearly half of the worst traffic black spots are in the UK.  Rob says, “Britain has fallen so far behind in investment in our roads that we’re heading for a grinding halt.  This gridlock can only seriously injure the economy at the worst possible time because we need everything running smoothly by the time we exit the EU.”

“The government’s committed to spending £56 billion on HS2,” he says.  “The cost will inevitably soar, it won’t be completed for decades and its benefits are questionable at the least.  That figure is almost three times the whole of the annual Transport budget.  The Chancellor announced an extra £1.3 billion for road improvements in the autumn statement but that again is peanuts by comparison and hides double-counting and already announced schemes.  We’re reaching a point of no return where Britain’s roads lead nowhere, least of all to post-Brexit prosperity.”

Rob Flello slams coalition as Children’s Centres set to close

Rob has reacted to the Budget consultation that has today been released by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, expressing his deep concern over the “credit card coalition” and the lack of leadership from the City Independent group on the authority.

“The most eye-catching proposal is of course a 3% increase in Council Tax for every one of the next three years”, said Rob, “which when you add it together means that a Band A property will pay almost £145 more into the Council’s coffers over that period and a Band B property around £169.  Residents will rightly want to see some benefit, yet in the very area where much of this extra funding is supposed to be used – adult social care – we will see yet more cuts.

“But as you look further through the proposals you see the true impact of the Tory-Independent coalition’s plans for the city.  We see for example that Children’s Centres will close across the city, and the City Council’s Co-operative Working agenda, which has been roundly praised and received strong early success, are going to be decimated, with the loss of over 150 jobs across those two services alone, plus a further 30 currently vacant posts that won’t be filled.  These are crucial front-line services that will be greatly missed by those who need them.”

Brexit law-making mustn’t stop the UK in its tracks

Rob has said that Britain’s vital transport and logistics sector risks grinding to a halt if Brexit law-making is not handled properly, saying that the Government’s plans for a Great Repeal Bill risk missing out many crucial pieces of legislation or bogging down our road, rail, sea and air freight industries for years to come.  
 
Speaking in a debate on Exiting the EU and Transport, Rob identified areas where all avenues for freight movement could face a regulatory nightmare.  Among the examples he highlighted were:
 
·         At sea, new EU law arising from the Ports Service Directive, currently under consideration, would be seriously harmful against the UK’s privately-owned facilities if it wasn’t removed quickly by the Great Repeal Bill 
·         In the air, leaving the EU would mean an end to UK participation in the Open Skies negotiations between the EU and US and could mean a return to the last bipartisan deal, Bermuda II, which was drawn-up in 1946 and is not suitable for modern aviation
·         On the roads, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is already under-resourced and bereft of serious powers relating to non-UK vehicles – a situation which, without better financial and statutory support will only get worse after Brexit

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