Heavy Lorries (London)

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 1:22 pm on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Cities of London and Westminster Paddington 1:22, 22 May 1981

I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise the subject of heavy lorries in London in this Adjournment debate. The matter is of great importance to all who live and work in our capital city.

I was disappointed that the Armitage report on heavy lorries made no specific recommendations on lorries in inner cities, and in London in particular.

The environmental impact of juggernauts on our capital is evident to anyone who lives in London. First, there are the fumes. Lorries belch out clouds of black fumes. These are tiny particles of unburnt diesel. Pedestrians have to hold their breath as a lorry goes by in order to avoid a lungful of diesel particles. Then there is the appalling noise caused by heavy lorries. On some roads the peak lorry traffic is at 5 o'clock in the morning, so alarm clocks are redundant for anyone whose bedroom faces on to the road.

Enormous lorries also infringe on other traffic using the roads. Larger lorries are slower than smaller ones, and harder to overtake. When heavy lorries crash or spill their loads—and anyone who listens to traffic bulletins on the radio will know that this happens quite often—the road is often totally blocked.

The Armitage report recommended a number of ways by which lorries could be made less of an environmental menace. For example, the Government should press for an EEC directive on maximum noise levels for new lorries.

These recommendations are to be welcomed. However, I do not think that they will get to the root of London's lorry problem. Quite apart from anything else, the police do not have sufficient resources to enforce the new legislation. Nor will the problem of lorries in London be solved by building more roads. Building more bypasses would have little effect, because only 5 per cent. of all lorries over 16 tons gross weight that enter London have no deliveries or collections to make, but pass straight through.

Building roads actually inside London is not very practical. It requires large-scale demolition and environmental intrusion. The example of the Westway, where the elevated motorway passes as little as 15 metres away from bedroom windows, is completely unacceptable environmentally.

One option that the Government should be considering is a total ban on heavy lorries in London. GLC planning officials have estimated that the cost of such a ban on lorries over 16 tonnes would be £150 million a year. I suspect that a detailed cost-benefit analysis of all the factors involved would reveal a much smaller figure.

Heavy lorries have to be paid for in numerous ways. For example, extra road repairs can be directly attributed to juggernauts; local councils lose rates revenue through properties along juggernaut routes having lower rateable values. Lorries also damage buildings through vibration. A recent Czechoslovakian study showed that houses along juggernaut routes can lose up to half their lives. Finally, lorries cause considerable damage to sewers and water and gas mains. The King report on gas explosions found that heavy lorries were a significant factor in causing the explosions.

There are lessons to be learnt from the way in which other countries have kept the lorry menace out of their capital cities. In Tokyo and Paris lorries over 7½ tonnes and 3½ tonnes respectively are banned even for access. Paris uses the break-bulk or transhipment system, whereby deliveries are taken by juggernaut to an edge-of-town depot. There, all items going to any given destination are consolidated on to a smaller, single, tightly packed lorry.

Garoner is one of the companies operating this system. It has a 178-acre site on the northern outskirts of Paris, with 3 million sq ft of depot space. This totally private sector venture opened in 1967 and had enormous commercial success even before the total ban on heavy lorries in Paris came into being in 1977.

The commercial attraction of the break-bulk system is twofold. First, unloading times and the number of deliveries required for a single destination are both cut drastically. Secondly, over the last 10 years, as lorries have become increasingly larger their average loads have dropped from about 65 per cent. to 50 per cent. Marks and Spencer have used the break-bulk system to great advantage.

London has a far greater need for transhipment centres on its outskirts than has Paris. It has a much larger urban sprawl, with a more difficult road system. Of course, the critics of this proposal will ask where the sites for such operations would be found. I suggest that an enterprising company such as Garoner might begin to search for suitable sites by inspecting the land registers now being set up by the Department of the Environment, which are open for public inspection. The registers contain the first lists of land owned by local authorities, nationalised industries and other public bodies that is either vacant or insufficiently used. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has powers to direct that land is disposed of as appropriate.

Of course, there is a need for road improvement in London—the capital's roads are among the worst in Europe—but that should not be done at the expense of the residents and the environment of the people who live and work in London. Transhipment centres seem to be part of the solution. I look forward to hearing my hon. and learned Friend's view and whether the Government are to do anything about what seems to me an excellent idea.