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Future ‘unsustainable’ without radical change says Transport for London

With 89% of all freight traffic being carried on London’s roads and 23% of carbon emissions due to ground based transport, the case for moving more cargo on the River Thames has become imperative, according to Joseph Dack of Transport for London.

Speaking at an inaugural Modal Shift conference held in London at The Chamber of Shipping by independent industry body Freight by Water, Mr. Dack was one of a series of high profile speakers from across the freight transport sector to issue a serious challenge to the industry to work together to deliver a viable alternative to traditional road haulage.

Challenge to the freight industry
"Better use of the river – the Blue Ribbon network – for freight transport is an important part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy," he said. "Currently we are breaching legislation with regard to air quality issues, whilst growing congestion is impacting on journey speeds and reliability of delivery times. Water freight is clearly recognised in London’s transportation strategies, policies and plans, which provides a framework for ‘modal shift’. However, we can’t do this without the engagement of the industry and unless that happens, the future is unsustainable!"

The challenge was welcomed by Peter Ward, Executive Director of Freight by Water, a not for profit membership organisation, supported by the Department of Transport and established to promote and facilitate modal shift. He described the River Thames Modal Shift forum, the first in a series of planned events across the UK, as a launch pad for change and a call to action to the water freight transport sector to deliver a tangible ‘bundled’ solution including a matrix of routes, times and services.

Freight by Water will be facilitator
Ward called on major retailers and manufacturers, as well as the leading logistics providers to play their part. "The role of Freight by Water is to set an agenda for change, identify the key drivers and recruit willing partners," he declared. "The case for shifting lorry loads of cargo from London’s roads onto the river is made. The time for talking is over – now we must be prepared to actively develop a solution."

Retail giant Sainsbury’s, which has taken a strong lead in exploring possibilities of modal shift to water in London, and sister retailer Homebase both contributed to the event and offered strong support for the Freight by Water initiative. Kevin Greenaway, National Planning Manager at Sainsbury’s, spoke of the challenges and complexities involved, but reiterated the company’s firm commitment to add water to its portfolio of transport following the success of trials centred around its Wandsworth store.

Buy-in from Sainsbury’s for water freight transport option
"There was no damage and deliveries were made on time," he said. "The project worked well and was well received by all at the store. Our ambition for the future is to be able to scale up to deliver to fifteen stores around London, moving ambient product on a daily basis. There is buy-in for this at all levels, from the warehouse manager to the Chief Executive; we are willing to change our operations to achieve change, but obviously we can’t do it overnight and we can’t do it without the industry!"

Speaking at the event, the Head of Planning and Partnerships at the Port of London Authority James Trimmer, expressed his confidence in the future of water freight, describing the Port of London as a major economic driver for the City with many exciting opportunities. He added that the River Thames has become increasingly busy, despite the recent economic downturn and pledged to continue to work closely with Transport for London to facilitate reduction of lorry movements and consequent carbon emissions. James Leeson of the Tilbury Container Services agreed, "We are very positive about the future," he said. "We can see momentum building and there is also huge potential for short sea services."

London Gateway delivers new opportunities
Other speakers at the Freight by Water Modal Shift forum included Charles Meaby of DP World, who highlighted new opportunities for increased waterborne transportation offered by the multi-million pound London Gateway development, which will be Europe’s largest logistics park, directly connected to a new purpose-built deep water port on The Thames, and represents one of the UK’s leading environmental programmes. Mr. Meaby said that London Gateway will potentially reduce road haulage by up to sixty five million kilometres a year, which is equivalent to two thousand trucks per day.

Soaring fuel prices will drive change
Nick Gazzard, Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics (CILT) Sustainable Distribution Strategy Group and CEO of Incept, warned of a severe energy crunch to come as fuel and energy prices set to soar. He argued that modal shift would be driven as much by oil prices and inevitable taxes on carbon emissions, as much as by the climate change lobby and asked the industry "Are you ready for the challenge – and can you act together?"

Mr.Gazzard continued, "The Government can’t build the solution without industry feedback of a coherent message. We must work together to get funding with a clear, pan-industry consensus."

Concluding, Peter Ward underlined that sustainability is key to profitability in the emerging ‘He who cares wins’ business culture and urged delegates to join a virtuous circle of key stakeholders determined to deliver change.

"Driving this change will be no easy task, especially as the water industry is so fragmented," he said. "We do not enjoy the massive subsidies of rail. Improvements to infrastructure will be required and authorities will need to relax archaic working regulations as momentum builds – but the good news is that the waterways are readily available and free to use, ports are very much open for business, and leading 3pls and major retailers are onside ready to make a difference!"

Freight by Water will be holding the next Modal Shift Forum at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool’s Albert Dock complex on July 15th.

Freight by Water is a not for profit organisation which was established to promote increased use of short sea, coastal and inland waterways to encourage modal shift in the UK, delivering a range of economic and environmental benefits.

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