Interview: Freight in the City met with the North East Freight Partnership to find out how its role is helping its regional cities adopt more sustainable working practices for the essential movement of goods.
The North East Freight Partnership works with local government, businesses and operators to encourage sustainable movement of goods throughout the region.
Now in its 11th year, the partnership represents freight interests across seven local authorities: Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
FreightintheCity spoke to Paul Davison (pictured), principal consultant for sustainable freight and logistics at Aecom, which operates the scheme on behalf of the North East Combined Authority, about its achievements to date and future goals.
“We usually aim to undertake around 10 to 12 initiatives each year that encourage the sustainable movement of freight in the North East of England,” he says. “The whole partnership is geared towards efficiency and effectiveness of moving goods.”
Newcastle, like other major cities, is preparing itself for a rapid increase in the number of bicycles on its roads. It is one of the government’s Cycle Action Cities, and following an initial £5.7m from the Cycle City Ambition Fund has been allocated a further £10.6m in government funding to improve its infrastructure to support the rise in cyclist numbers.
While fatalities involving HGVs and cyclists in the North East are still comparatively rare compared with London, the partnership is keen to address the challenge of shared road space before it becomes an issue.
Free-of-charge vulnerable road user training courses have been made available for operators, which comprise part-classroom and part on-road bike riding for HGV drivers to raise awareness of the difficulties cyclists face navigating busy roads and junctions.
In addition, the partnership is keeping a close watch on the impact any infrastructure changes will have on freight deliveries, such as the introduction of red routes on key roads into the city, with segregation where feasible for cyclists.
“There are changes taking place, but we don’t yet know what the implications will be for loading/unloading and access to the city generally. But the partnership is the perfect vehicle to address any issues if they do arise,” says Davison.
“Any loading and unloading challenges would be most pronounced in Sunderland and Newcastle city centres. But we haven’t got a sense yet that there is an issue. We’re keeping an eye on it.”
The partnership has already taken part in consultations with the engineers carrying out the infrastructure works to listen to the needs of freight deliveries.
When Transport for London announced it would be placing the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (Fors) into private management to drive its reach outside of London and across the UK, the North East had a head start with adopting the initiative.
“The North East was a vanguard for the national expansion of Fors,” explains Davison.
Following an exercise back in 2012 looking at the different types of accreditation scheme available for the freight sector, the partnership opted for Fors and began to promote its benefits to local authorities and major contractors across the region.
“We have seen membership rise significantly since then, despite the fact we are not a logistics hub on the scale of somewhere like the East Midlands or London. With the support of the partnership, we’ve been able to encourage uptake,” Davison explains.
Discussions have already taken place with all the local authorities about writing the Fors standards into their contracts. “This is an aspiration we wish to address with authority procurement teams.”
Fors Practitioner workshops are available free of charge through the partnership, with advice and guidance available to help operators achieve bronze entry level standards.
In terms of the fee structure introduced earlier this year, Davison says there has not been a drop-off in membership levels so far, but a clearer picture will be painted at the end of the first full year of charging.
The Construction Logistics & Cyclist Safety (Clocs) scheme is also starting to gain ground in the North East, as construction firms sign up to its standards, which align closely with the silver Fors accreditation level.
“The aspiration is that it is industry-led and we support Clocs in the same way we support Fors,” adds Davison.
Encouraging the take-up of low-emission goods vehicles and cleaner fuels is another aspiration for the partnership, although the lack of vehicle choice and higher upfront costs have so far not seen much penetration in the North East’s freight sector.
However, with the North East Combined Authority shortlisted to bid for a share of the government’s Ultra Low City Scheme fund, encouraging the shift to low-emission vehicles is certainly a significant priority for the region.
“As technology gets more trusted and certain, we will be exploring more alternative fuels across the partnership,” says Davison. “We’ve also supported the government’s longer semi-trailer trial. We researched into it for members and looked at the impact/benefits.”
One successful scheme the partnership managed was the use of cycle logistics for last-mile deliveries in Newcastle city centre, as a trial for possible wider roll-out across the region. This looked at the possibilities of cycle cargo carriers, rather than purely cycle couriers. “Very much the movement of goods rather than just parcels and letters,” explains Davison.
“If they have electric-assist on the bikes and they are geared a certain way, they can carry quite a substantial load of around a quarter of a tonne, which is usually enough for most city centre movements. It obviously won’t replace an HGV but where the air quality is at its worst is in the city centres, using more zero-emission cargo bikes over vans would certainly help,” he adds.
Last November, a workshop was held to inform businesses looking to use cycle logistics of their options and how to go about launching such an operation. A local bakery wanted to take the notion for a ride, and with the help of the partnership, procured the equipment that is now being successfully operated in Newcastle.
Consolidation is another idea popular with local authorities, however, the reality of a trial retail scheme carried out at Eldon Square in Newcastle city centre three years ago found little appetite from operators wanting to use the facility.
“The city just doesn’t have the same issues in terms of congestion that you see in London, so operators didn’t see the benefits of using it.”
It was closed within 12 months, and has discouraged further discussion on consolidation in city centres, he adds. However, if a low-emission zone or congestion charging were introduced, it might be looked at again. There is a commitment to an LEZ in the recently adopted Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan for Gateshead and Newcastle and the concept will be revisited during the lifetime of the plan.
Current initiatives in the North East include a wide-scale trial of different types of cycle safety technology, including side proximity sensors and RFID tagging, which will be tested until April next year and include liaising with operators and cycling groups alike.
“It will enable us to help operators and see what type of technology is out there, what the impact has been on driver behaviour and the perception of cyclist,” adds Davison.
The partnership is also looking to work with researchers at Newcastle University on a piece of technology attached to a vehicle that enables it to take a priority route by co-ordinating with urban traffic management systems, for example, to control traffic lights. It has so far been tested on non-emergency vehicles, but will now be used on freight vehicles during the trial.
“It will be interesting to see what impact it has on the supply chain during the trial period,” says Davison. “Also the unit will tell you how long before a light turns green, for example, so you can manage acceleration and braking more efficiently to reduce fuel.”
Future plans for a brand-new truck park on the A1 are also afoot, with talks taking place with operators to find the optimum location. “We’ve had a few closures of sites recently and there have been some indiscriminate parking causing issues,” Davison explains.
Any such scheme is likely to need public funding to get underway, with a longer-term view for it to be self-funding.