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Monday, May 20, 2024

Government must deliver on Northern Powerhouse

Rod McKenzie is asking politicians to help the nation’s haulage companies, not hinder them

Rod McKenzie

Managing Director, Policy and Public Affairs

Road Haulage Assocation

Let’s talk about the Northern Powerhouse. That glorious vision of politicians to improve the economy of the north of England and end the historic bias towards London and southeast by business and government.

There are, as we know, lots of infrastructure issues, including of course the state of our roads and the lack of satisfactory east-west rail links. There is much to do, but increasingly it seems it is the politicians who talk big about the Northern Powerhouse who are doing their best to throw a spanner in the works and are in danger of causing a short-out of the business that drives it.
There is a lack of clear planning and joined-up thinking which is hindering the project. Road charging is a case in point. It is certain to hit smaller and medium sized haulers and leaves many asking, ‘why do I bother?’

Manchester, a city at the heart of the Powerhouse project, is a case in point. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is proposing to charge non-Euro VI lorries £100 a day to come into the city – the very same lorries delivering Manchester’s prosperity and business future. It’s a decision both punitive and senseless.

Why senseless? Well, it’s done in the name of cleaner air, but by 2021 the haulage sector will have slashed its harmful NOx emissions by a staggering 70 percent in a decade. But charging could trigger a modal shift. It takes 12×3.5 tonne capacity vans to carry the goods of a single 44 tonner. In turn that means more congestion from vans and guess what, more emissions (often from early Euro model vans) and that’s senseless. It is, as a famous alien once said, illogical: and you don’t have to be a Vulcan to see that.

Road User Charging is a euphemism for charging lorries more. This is already happening in a number of cities across the north of England with the proposed Clean Air Zones, and in cities like Bath where a similar proposal exists.

Cars, carrying voters, get let-off. I wonder why. Yet the science doesn’t support that. With lorry NOx emissions falling from 30 percent to 13 percent between 2010 and 2016, cars remain much bigger polluters.
It’s a great shame, and it will drive businesses out of the area. Operating costs from paying charges would rise by an estimated £20,000 per year for a single lorry. No lorries are on the roads for fun. They’re working. Fact: 95 percent of everything we consume in the UK has been transported on the back of a lorry at some point.

Hitting small haulage companies, who are operating on very tight margins, with fines of £50 or £60 is going to hurt business. It’s going to eat into the margins of these firms and could put many out of business, leading to fewer haulage companies able to supply vital goods to businesses in the north. If hauliers have to pass on these costs then customers will pay more in prices, and that’s not joined up economics either.

There is no viable retrofit option available for lorries, and even if there were upgrades to Euro VI available it would cost operators tens of thousands of pounds that they can ill afford.
We’ve got to be genuinely joined up. We hear politicians saying this a lot, and it’s sort of a buzzword, but there is no point in saying we need to boost business in the north if you’re then taking a measure, like road user charging, which punishes business.

Business nouse is what we lack in all of our road network and business dealings in the UK. The north of England has had a shocking deal from successive governments and deserves much better. But to achieve business goals local councils can’t be punishing local businesses.

It doesn’t help the Northern Powerhouse, doesn’t help ease congestion and doesn’t provide cleaner air.

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