Freight in the City Looks North

The freight and logistics industry could hold the balance of power to help Chancellor George Osborne in his objective of building a “Northern Powerhouse” to rival London in the south.

At the Freight in the City Summit yesterday in the formerly industrial, but now very polished, Manchester Central Convention Complex, speakers lined up from across the industry to talk on this and a range of other topics.

Looking North
The day kicked off with transport economist and Transport for the North consultant Chris Rowland talking the audience through his analysis and modelling  for how a shift in transport focus north might look up to the year 2043.

The strategy being put forward to bring about transformational change involves creating the correct environment in the public sector to result in significant private sector investment to develop Multimodal Distribution Parks in a belt across the north of the country. There are apparently benefits worth some £51.2bn to the UK.

Rowland’s modelling shows that such a transformation would move the so-called transport “Golden Triangle” currently in the Midlands further north. The outcome would apparently be a reduction of the total number of HGV miles each year but an increase in traffic moving from East to West with the Humber being a significant beneficiary.

Commenting on Twitter, Mike Bristo, an attendee of the summit and corporate fundraising officer at Brake said: “Sending more traffic to an already heavily congested area of the UK can’t be seen as positive.”

It is safe to assume that the jury is still out on how well received the idea of a northward shift might be. Warren Marshall of Peel Ports Group later identified during his presentation that 91% of maritime containers land in the south despite 50% of those goods being destined for north of Birmingham.

Consumer Habits
Moving on, ecommerce, shifting consumer habits and the changing demands on transport and logistics was a recurring theme discussed by many of the summit’s morning speakers.

DHL SlideIan Cooper of DHL Supply Chain said that we should celebrate the global rise of the city that now sees 75% of the world’s 1bn or so vehicles in urban areas. In his view we are very much still at “the thin end of the wedge” on seeing what the full impact of ecommerce will be on the supply chain.

Gareth Morgan of the Sheffield Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), whose organisation helps to bring about infrastructure projects in the Sheffield region, pointed out that the changing demands were leading to uncertainty about what kind of infrastructure is required to serve future consumers.

Whilst the sentiment at the summit in many quarters was that we need to shift towards a more multimodal approach to transport with rail and water frequently discussed others felt that the need to meet consumer expectations would make moving away from road transport impossible movements with any urgency.

The greatest advocate for the truck throughout the morning session was Ian Stansfield, who until very recently was the VP logistics services and supply chain at Asda.

He agrees that changing consumer behaviour is sending more freight traffic into traditionally more congested urban zones and said consumer demands are driving this. According to Stansfield a fifth of adults in the UK carry out grocery shopping online each month and this phenomenon will only continue.

In Stansfield’s view we should love the truck which actually cut congestion. In his view, the maths is fairly simple. Each home delivery light commercial vehicle (LCV) has 10 household’s shopping on board reducing the need for 10 separate trips to be made to the supermarket.

Transport professionals are focused on maximising utilisation and cutting unnecessary fuel use resulting in a much more efficient outcome. He said the Asda’s fleet is 10% more efficient than it was thanks to all investment and improvements to its fleet.

Changing the Way Authorities Think
During the summit Kevin Rooney, the Traffic Commissioner for the North East, reported on plans to modernise the O Licence application process to reduce the application cycle time by 22%.

Meanwhile Transport for London (TfL) head of fleet & freight programmes, Ian Wainwright said that the fundamental way we do things needs to be changed.

TfL has shown that in the morning peak time, 47% of HGVs on the roads are from the construction industry. Peak time for freight transportation has also been shown to be the same as for the movement of people.

According to Wainwright we must reduce the overall demand for road trips as we encourage journeys to be retimed or rerouted where appropriate. Minimising the impact of road transport was the third way to have an impact he said.

In Summary
Whilst there was some controversy during the summit, with disagreements about the impact of a shift north and the best ways to cut congestion and improve air quality in urban zones, there was almost unanimous consensus in two key areas.

Firstly that ecommerce is rapidly changing the supply chain and having broad ramifications that we are only at the beginning of seeing right now.  Secondly delegates agreed that this shift is leading to the truck being more essential than ever to meet consumer demands.