Heavy Lorries (London)

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 22 May 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 1:30, 22 May 1981

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) on raising such a topical subject. I know that his concern about the effects of the heavy lorry on London will be shared by most of the residents of his constituency and most of those who, like myself, visit or work in the city. The feeling is not confined to London. There is strong reaction to the effects on the day-to-day quality of life that can be caused by the large number of heavy lorries that inevitably use our roads to serve our industry.

I should like to begin with a broad statement of principle on behalf of the Government. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are determined to ensure that the damaging effects of lorries on the qualities of our lives are reduced. In all our policies we must be careful not to impair the efficiency of our road freight transport in a manner that will lead to damaging effects for industry and increased costs for consumers. Our main aim, however, is to reduce the damage at present caused by heavy lorries. All policies in the Department of Transport—road building, the regulation of lorries and the attempts to help traffic divert from road to rail where environmental gains can be produced—are aimed at reducing the impact on day-to-day life.

I should make it clear that the Government are not responsible for traffic regulations and road building in London, except on a few trunk roads within the GLC boundary a few radial trunk roads that finish at the old LCC boundary, and the North Circular Road. Responsibility for other roads throughout London rests with the GLC and the London borough councils. The Government have an overall responsibility at national level for regulating lorries and lorry traffic.

It was because of widespread concern that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State decided that a wide-ranging, independent inquiry was necessary, to which lorry operators, national and local organisations and, most important, members of the public could put their complaints, comments and suggestions. My right hon. Friend appointed Sir Arthur Armitage who conducted the inquiry with assessors and heard from over 1,800 individuals and organisations. Many were particularly concerned about conditions in our capital city.

Sir Arthur was concerned mainly with measures that could be applied nationally. He decided that in the time available he was unable to go into detail about specific problems in particular places. However, he visited one or two places in London to see their problems for himself. Some of his recommendations, for instance that on lorry action areas, were made with such areas in mind. There are references in the report—for example, the Archway Road—where conditions are spectacularly bad in London.

Many of Sir Arthur's recommendations relate to possible changes in the construction and use regulations of lorries. They indicate ways in which the Government might be able to help and deal with some of the general points with which my hon. Friend began his speech. My hon. Friend mentioned noise. This is an important source of nuisance from lorries. The Government accept that there is scope for some improvement, and new noise limits have been agreed for new vehicles that will come into use from March 1983. We can also take considerable pride in the fact that a great deal of work has been done in this country to develop a prototype quiet heavy vehicle. This is being examined and is, indeed, in operation at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to make a statement soon on the reduction of noise levels at which the Government think the United Kingdom and other EEC member States should aim over the next 10 years or so.

Another problem is vibration. There is some conflict of evidence, however, about the precise extent to which vibration damages buildings.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the important matter of exhaust emissions. The regulations that exist controlling exhaust emissions are probably fairly satisfactory if they can be enforced. A considerable enforcement effort goes into them. My hon. Friend referred to the problem of black particles of carbon in lorry exhausts. This arises if vehicle engines are not properly maintained. I accept, however, that it is a real problem and that there are too many such vehicles about. We hope to strengthen present regulations. We are already considering how to introduce a new objective measurement of vehicle smoke from engines in use.

The Armitage report has attracted a great deal of public attention because of its recommendations on the difficult matter of lorry weights. Sir Arthur Armitage's recommendations as a whole, including those on noise, dimensions and exhaust emissions, as well as those on weights, are designed not only to give economic benefits to industry, but to produce environmental benefits. Some of the initial reaction to the report—including reaction from those with vested commercial interests against the road haulage industry—is understandable. However, I suspect that Sir Arthur and his assessors have been somewhat surprised at the strength of feeling of environmental groups. They would regard themselves as having been on the environmentalists' side. Although we have to decide whether they were correct, the authors of the report believed that their proposals would reduce the impact of lorries on the roads.

It is the report's thesis that an increase in lorry weights, within existing limits and dimensions—contrary to popular belief Sir Arthur made no recommendation that the dimensions should be increased—would allow vehicle operators to be more efficient, but would also lead to a reduction in lorry numbers. Therefore, the Armitage report does not contain a proposition that we should have even bigger lorries on our roads. Indeed, Sir Arthur recommends that there should be strict legal limits on the size of lorries. We are considering whether heavier lorries would reduce the number of lorries, and thereby their effects on traffic and on the environment.

If deliveries and movements within London were carried out by smaller vehicles, one would have to realise that slightly more lorries would be moving around the roads to make essential deliveries to the many factories within the GLC area. It is not for me, or for the Government, to propose how London should solve its lorry problems. That is primarily the responsibility of the GLC and the boroughs. A combination of factors could contribute towards a solution. Road building should help. Within the GLC area there is some trunk road building but London's record of road building in recent years has been poor. The lack of sensible links in some part of the city seems to me, as a provincial visitor, to be only too clear. In such a city traffic restrictions and improvements in lorries must be considered.

Other major cities in the developed world have used a combination of all those methods, namely, road building, traffic regulation and control of the type of lorry moving around in the city, to deal with the problem. My hon. Friend referred to Paris as a good example. In many ways, I agree that Paris is less afflicted by the lorry than is London. Unlike London, Paris has invested in a major motorway ring road, the Boulevard Peripherique, which is just outside the historic city. It has allowed Paris to keep all through traffic out of the inner city.

Contrary to the reports that heavy lorries up to 38 tonnes are banned in Paris, they are allowed access, even within the peripherique motorway, and are not, in general, restricted in the rest of the city. The benefits of the road system have probably kept the numbers down. The only lorries that bother to go into the centre of Paris have an essential purpose. I followed up the reports, which I think my hon. Friend will have seen. In Tokyo, lorries over 7–5 tonnes are prohibited from certain areas at certain times of the day, but they are allowed access at other times.

It is an inescapable fact that there will be a certain amount of essential industrial traffic in a major city. That traffic will have to go in and out of the city to maintain the commercial and economic health of the area and to keep up the level of employment. There are few cities whose economies could survive with a total ban on lorries of the type that is sometimes advocated.

My hon. Friend was attracted by the interesting suggestion that transhipment should be used when dealing with traffic that has to go into the centre of London. We are building the M25 to take the through traffic. My hon. Friend was interested also in the possibility of a break-bulk system—once through traffic has been taken away from London—whereby lorries could unload at transhipment depots on the outskirts. It might be best if they were to do so at locations on or near the M25 orbital route that is under construction. Having broken down the loads, goods could be delivered in smaller vehicles.

My hon. Friend mentioned Garoner. The Government take a general view of the matter rather than the view of one commercial interest, but I have met those concerned with the Garoner project and seen presentations of the arrangements in France. I was impressed, and I could see considerable advantages in the widespread introduction of such arrangements in this country.

There could be commercial advantages for some operators, because such a system could help to reduce vehicle numbers, unloading time and stockholding. Marks and Spencer and other retailers have already adopted a system of consolidation of loads, and various companies are attempting to introduce more general depots, building on the precedent of Garoner in Paris.

Consolidation appears mainly to benefit the retail trade. For example, supermarket chains have depots in London and other major cities to which wholesalers deliver and from which lorry loads of goods are sent to individual stores.

However, consolidation depots do not always lead to environmental improvement. The difficulty lies in finding an acceptable site for such depots. They can lead to a considerable increase in industrial traffic over a wide surrounding area. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is aware of that difficulty, because such a problem has arisen in his constituency.

The choice of sites is particularly difficult. I was interested in my hon. Friend's suggestion that those searching for sites, whether they be commercial operators or local authorities considering the possibility of subsequent lorry bans, should use the Department of the Environment's land register. The registers have been set up under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and give details of under-used publicly owned land.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has powers under the Act to order disposal if, for some curious reason, a public sector body is holding on to unused and derelict land. Unfortunately far too much derelict land in inner city areas has turned out to be owned by a nationalised industry or another public body.

Nationally, 33 areas have been selected for registers, and 21 have been published. The London boroughs of Ealing, Southwark, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth are to have registers, and those for Ealing and Wandsworth have already been published. They will be a valuable record of the location of suitable industrial land.

The Armitage committee considered consolidation and transhipment of loads and concluded that the arguments for transhipment depots were not so convincing that they had universal application. The committee pointed out that many goods require specialist storing and handling and would not be suitable for transhipment. Petrol is a good example of that, and is also a good example of the benefits of moving to heavier vehicles. There tend to be fixed flows of petrol from point to point and the more that a petrol tanker is allowed to carry, the less frequent will be the deliveries.

We are still considering the Armitage committee's advice that, as a general rule, compulsory transhipment would be expensive and would make the distribution process less efficient. As long as one is selective and realises that there are only parts of the market to which the system could apply, we are interested in what is proposed and we hope that local authorities will take a constructive interest.

All those matters, particularly the building of roads, such as the M25, which we hope will take much heavy traffic out of the London suburbs, and the development of new ideas such as transhipment depots, lead on to the question whether that would enable us to ban lorries from unsuitable roads. That is the particular concern of my hon. Friend, who has in his constituency many such unsuitable roads, suffering from lorry traffic.

Local authorities have some powers and the Government believe that they should be used wherever practicable. That usually means using them wherever there are adequate routes that can serve vital industrial traffic, because that opens the way to a ban being imposed on heavier vehicles using residential roads.

London is already making some progress, and I am glad to say that in March of this year the GLC announced a lorry ban over 50 square miles of North London, which was the first such ban to be made possible by the construction of the M25. It was announced by Mr. Alan Greengross, then the leader of the GLC's planning and communications committee, that this was an experiment. But he said that he was looking forward to a time, by the mid-1980s, when the M25 would form a 120-mile ring round London, giving the opportunity to protect the capital from the impact of many thousands of heavy lorries which otherwise thunder through its streets. He said that the GLC was able to choose—as a result of the progress so far made with construction—areas within the Barnet and Enfield borough council in which to bring in a widespread ban. It was hoped that the scheme would provide better conditions in shopping centres such as Enfield, Barnet, Southgate and similar residential areas.

It is also our hope that as the M25 continues to make progress the opportunity will be presented to local authorities to impose suitable bans in other parts of London.

The new GLC has made rather vague statements about lorry bans. The Labour manifesto talked about banning all lorries if weights were raised. That was a rather ill-thought-out and ill-considered policy—as was a good deal of the rest of the material in the manifesto. However, the Labour Party was successful, and no doubt the new GLC will be facing the practical problems involved. I hope that it will look at the experience and practice of its predecessor. Used carefully and selectively, bans can be introduced, but it is necessary to be careful and selective in order not to cause unnecessary costs for industry. Such costs would be passed on to the consumer.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a very serious problem. The debate that has followed the publication of the Armitage report has shown that there is widespread public concern about the problem, and the Government have to accept that we are expected to make some movement on the whole question of reducing the impact of lorries on our day-to-day lives.

We are still carefully considering all 58 of the Armitage recommendations, and have not yet taken a decision on the report. I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to so many of the positive—and in many cases noncontroversial—recommendations of the report, at which the Government are looking sympathetically. We have to put some of the other more difficult ones in context, because we are all striving to improve the environment without damaging our industry and the interest of the consumer.

The Government will continue to seek the best ways of dealing with the problems caused by lorries, in particular, and we shall come to decisions on the Armitage report as soon as possible. We hope that the local authorities in London, as elsewhere, will continue to look at measures that they can sensibly take in road building and traffic management. The 50 square mile ban introduced recently shows that quite important steps will be practicable in the not-too-distant future. The efforts of Garoner and other commercial companies show that there is no lack of good new ideas within the road haulage industry.

I hope, therefore, that in the not-too-distant future we shall see a good deal of progress in creating conditions in London which will be less unpleasant, less dangerous and less disruptive of people's ordinary lives.