The Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have welcomed the progress of legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly which will ultimately lead to a licensing and enforcement regime for commercial vehicles similar to that operated in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Tom Wilson, FTA Manager – Northern Ireland, and Phil Flanders, RHA Director for Northern Ireland met with Minister of the Environment Arlene Foster MLA on 8 August. They were told that the Department of the Environment Road Safety and Vehicle Standards Division has made a bid to introduce the proposed Road Transport Bill through the NI Assembly and it is hoped that the first stage of this will be heard in September 2007. Once primary and secondary legislation has been passed then the powers of licensing and enforcement will be the same as currently exist in the rest of the United Kingdom.
FTA's Tom Wilson said, 'Operator licensing for all commercial vehicle operators has applied elsewhere in the UK since 1968 and the result has been a considerable improvement in safety standards and legal compliance. Although the current scene in Northern Ireland is by no means bad, I am sure that we can look forward to improvements to the mutual benefit of both commercial vehicle operators and other road users.'
RHA's Phil Flanders said, 'We had an excellent meeting covering a wide range of issues affecting the freight transport industry. We were very encouraged by the Minister's clear understanding of the transport industry in Northern Ireland and, in particular, the distinct differences in legislation that exist between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom.'
The Minister also recognised that Northern Ireland had never been allocated money under the Road Haulage Modernisation Fund, designed to advise individual companies on operational improvements in the industry to benefit both road safety and the environment, as had been the case in the rest of the UK. FTA and RHA will be pursuing this issue.
The Minister agreed that the Road Transport Bill, combined with the full introduction of operator licensing, would help to reduce the high levels of fuel smuggling between Northern Ireland and Eire. Members of both associations believed that such illegal smuggling would quickly cease if fuel duty levels were equalised between the north and the south.
Phil Flanders said, 'The meeting with Ms Foster was extremely valuable. It is encouraging to know that we have a Minister who is so well informed and I am confident that we have formed the foundation of a good working relationship between the Assembly and the road freight operators of Northern Ireland.'
Tom Wilson said, 'This was a very helpful meeting and we are optimistic for a positive relationship with the Assembly, to the future benefit of transport operators.'