08 February 2018

Road Haulage and Freight Groups React as Minister Discusses Multiple Modal Transport Options  

Air, Rail and International Trucking On Chris Grayling's Desk This Week

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Shipping News Feature UK – Transport secretary Chris Grayling is much in the news this week and one presumes he knows his way around the media having formerly worked for both the BBC and Channel 4. Whether all this attention is welcome is of course a very different matter. The Secretary of State is fighting on three different fronts, each concerning a different modal transport service, air, rail and road haulage freight.

Most of the publicity concerns the demise of the East Coast rail franchise in which, depending on one’s point of view, he has either handed a £2 billion bonus to Stagecoach (90%) and Virgin Trains (10%) by letting them off the agreement to run the loss making service, whilst simultaneously giving Virgin an uncontested new and lucrative contract (London/Edinburgh) and letting Stagecoach tender for three others, or the contrary view, that he has inherited problems created by a previous administration.

It is not our place to comment on what is primarily a passenger transport problem however it seems that the current franchise model contains basic flaws, if all goes well the private stakeholders make a bundle to the disgust of many critics, if it fails, the government is bound to step in and pick up the tab. So what is Mr G facing as regards to the air industry? Put simply the government £20 million study which took two and a half years, recommended a third north-west runway at London’s Heathrow airport, as part of the revised national airport policy, which the transport secretary backs.

Now however, ex Concorde pilot Jock Lowe’s proposal to extend the existing runway to enable planes to land at one end whilst simultaneously others take off from the other, has received support from many quarters but has not been well received by the government with the minister, speaking before the Transport Select Committee, saying that although the extended runway was a very innovative idea, the promoters could not provide a written guarantee from Heathrow that they would go through with it, a position derided by the supporters of the plan.

There will be a government vote on the National Policy Statement for Heathrow expansion in the coming months with the intention of lodging a planning application by 2020 and the completion of the third runway by 2026. Despite all the controversy around him at the moment Mr Grayling can however take some solace from the reaction of the road freight industry to his latest comments.

This week saw the launch of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill, aimed at giving support to hauliers operating internationally post Brexit. Aimed at smoothing possible future problems in cross border trade the bill, introduced by Baroness Sugg in the House of Lords, is intended to ensure UK haulage operations are not subject to unnecessary delays. Chris Grayling commented:

”Our road haulage industry is right at the heart of the £110 billion of trade that takes place between the UK and EU every year. We believe reaching an agreement to continue the liberal access enjoyed by both sides is in everyone’s interests and remain confident we will do so. But I also understand that hauliers are planning for the years ahead and want to have certainty that any future deal can be implemented smoothly, so this Bill ensures we have plans in place if the deal requires a permitting system.”

The bill aims to ensure that there are arrangements in place to enable a permit scheme if required as part of a deal with the EU, ensuring UK hauliers can obtain the necessary paperwork to provide services to and from EU countries. Also that a trailer registration scheme in line with the 1968 Vienna Convention is established. This is to make certain that UK operators driving on the continent can comply with the requirements of those EU countries which require the registration of all trailers travelling on their roads.

The government also wants to first ratify the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic so that British trucks comply with the common rules by being registered with each country they pass through. All trailers affected will need mandatory registration, and any relevant permits will be available under the auspices of the Bill. James Hookham, Deputy Chief Executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said:

”The FTA supports this bill as a sensible contingency measure, but one that exporting and importing businesses hope never has to be used. Any decision which will enable the frictionless movement of trade to continue between the UK and EU is to be welcomed, and the UK’s logistics industry needs reassurance that ‘business as normal’ can continue throughout the negotiations and transition period.

”We also support the government’s objective of ensuring that no limits are set on the number of goods vehicles crossing between the EU and UK after Brexit, to ensure that Britain and its European neighbours can maintain an effective trading relationship.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) also gave tacit support to the measure but was not quite so enthusiastic, perhaps sensing that, with negotiations still dragging along, the unsure outcome was something which needed resolving sooner rather than later. RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said:

“While the RHA whole-heartedly supports that it is the right thing for Government to be preparing contingency measures, the free-flow of goods to the rest of Europe must be maintained. It is therefore essential that the arrangements we have at present be continued. The Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill, announced today, is an enabling Bill to instigate a contingency to cover a negotiated settlement involving permits, or the worst-case scenario, that we get no deal.

“It is standard business practice to have an effective contingency plan in place if things go wrong. In this case we need to see clear Government commitment that it will seek an agreement that does not impose new permits, quotas or limits on UK international operators. The road freight industry needs clarity as soon as possible as regards what is being negotiated. The views of the RHA and the road haulage sector as a whole have been consistently clear. We want to see a system where licensed UK and EU operators can undertake international road haulage to, from, and through the UK and EU without any additional burden or cost.”

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