Danes have appetite for night-time deliveries

The state of the global economy and its subsequent effect on public spending, together with the environmental imperative that has made carbon reduction a top priority certainly hasn’t hindered the progress of night-time deliveries in Europe.

There is an increasing appetite on the Continent for this simple win-win solution, which improves efficiency, environmental performance and seems to have no drawbacks.

It was with a sense of pride that I, along with the Noise Abatement Society (NAS), the DfT, Transport and Travel Research (TTR) and Sainsbury’s, shared the results of the recently completed Quiet Deliveries Demonstration Scheme (QDDS) with a delegation from the FTA’s Danish equivalent, International Transport Denmark (ITD). Pride, because this simple concept that actually started in Holland has been tirelessly championed and rigorously tested in the UK, sparking interest beyond these shores.

Like FTA, the ITD is not afraid to spearhead initiatives that will ultimately save the businesses in its membership money and time and allow them to meet their own carbon-reduction targets. The Danish contingent, which included the Danish Transport Authority, Business Link South Denmark and a representative from the bread company Lantmännen Schulstad, was keen to understand how the results of the QDDS could translate into Denmark, taking into account the practicalities, benefits and challenges of delivering goods out-of-hours that were found in the UK.

One of the most obvious challenges to overcome was ensuring that the local residents’ right to a good night’s sleep were not compromised by lifting late-night or early-morning delivery bans. Lisa Lavia, MD of the NAS, has played a massive part in ensuring this remains a central component of night-time deliveries. It is partly this background of responsibility for one’s community that has driven its success. Lisa’s enthusiasm for rolling out the scheme is testament to that.

“Interest in the QDDS trials is increasing, with several countries seeking to adapt the scheme locally. We know that if best practice is shared and strict guidelines are adhered to, night-time deliveries are an efficient and pragmatic solution to a growing problem.”

By saving fuel and time, the investment in quiet equipment, such as reversing alarms, and the driver training needed to make night-time deliveries quiet, represents a solid return. But it’s not just businesses that can benefit, everyone would gain from lower road congestion, cleaner air and a more reliable supply chain. Indeed, earlier this year, transport minister Mike Penning backed night-time deliveries, declaring them a ‘win-win’ for the environment and business, stating that if done correctly, delivering out-of-hours need not be a nuisance to residents.

This ministerial buy-in was not lost on ITD’s chairman and owner of the transport company HP Therkelsen, Mogens Therkelsen. “We were impressed by the rigorous and scientific nature of the QDDS trials and it was invaluable to learn first-hand how FTA, NAS and the DfT worked together to create fair and meaningful trials.”
With the Olympics challenging London’s supply chain next summer, there is also a sense of timeliness underpinning the QDDS. How can we deliver more freight with less time to do so? By lifting lorry bans and allowing deliveries to be made at night.

Clearly there is a strong appetite among the Danes to introduce night-time delivery trials similar to those we completed earlier this year. The demonstrable environmental, economic and road safety benefits of delivering goods out-of-hours are hard to ignore and I am sure the FTA will be working more closely with Mogens and the others to help them develop a robust methodology that works for them.

  • See our night-time delivery feature inside the Olympic supplement, free with this issue of Motor Transport.

Night-time proves the right time to deliver

A throw-away comment from a truck driver about night-time deliveries last week summed up perfectly one of the reasons why delivering out-of-hours makes a lot of sense.

“Night-time deliveries are f***ing great; there’s no idiots getting in your way on the streets,” this driver called to his mate as I walked past him incognito. I was having a snoop around various parts of London during the twilight hours last week, accompanied by the MD of the Noise Abatement Society and the director of Transport & Travel Research, both of whom have been heavily involved in quiet delivery trials over the past couple of years (see p3).

With the Olympic Route Network in force between 6am and midnight, it was predicted that the majority of deliveries in London would take place at night during the Olympics. There were fears of operators fighting for kerbside space. This certainly wasn’t the case on the night I was out on the streets of London. Things did get a little busier from 1am onwards but nothing like I was expecting.

What was good to see was the number of different operators’ liveries I spotted, proving many were giving out-of-hours deliveries a try.

A pre-arranged stop-off at a Carlsberg delivery near Marble Arch provided a good insight into the benefits for the drivers of doing night work. The three-man Carlsberg crew all spoke enthusiastically about how delivering at night enabled them to get around London a lot quicker. They also said their customers were happier to stay on a bit longer at the end of their day to receive the delivery rather than go home and then come back during the morning to receive the drinks order.

With the quiet delivery experts on hand we certainly observed some good quiet delivery practices – lengths of rubber hose on load securing chains for instance – but overall it appears there is a lot more work to be done by operators in training and explaining to drivers the importance of implementing quiet delivery behaviour. Most deliveries were being carried out as though it was broad daylight, with a lot of shouting from drivers and careless slamming and banging going on.

Luckily, there appear to have been very few reports of noise complaints from residents during the Games.

Improved efficiency, improved safety and reduced vehicle emissions are real benefits of operating at night, so if all it needs is a little more driver training to enable operators to continue delivering at night, this is surely something to which the industry can commit.

Silent night

If a retailer wants to consider handling deliveries outside the traditional peak delivery window, there are numerous hoops to jump through and, until now, the potential benefits have not seemed worthwhile. But the results of the DfT-funded Quiet Delivery Demonstration Scheme (QDDS) trials have shown there are a significant number of benefits available – both commercial and environmental.

Faster round-trip journey times; reduced vehicle turnaround times at stores; better fuel consumption from less time spent stationary, idling in congestion; improved shift productivity from drivers and vehicles; increased product availability in store; less congestion; better local air quality and fewer carbon emissions. To any transport operation, this list of benefits is music to the ears.

The brainchild of the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) and the FTA, the QDDS was set up in November 2009 in conjunction with the DfT to investigate the potential benefits from relaxing delivery curfews for quiet deliveries. After a thorough selection process, trials at six sites belonging to Tesco, Superdrug, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, took place over a 15-month period, ending in March this year. Although only four of the trials were completed, valuable lessons were learnt.

Alternative times

The scheme was managed by freight specialists at transport consultants Transport & Travel Research (TTR), with other members of the project team consisting of NAS, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and AEA Technology.

Chris Douglas, QDDS project manager and director of TTR, tells MT: “From an operational point of view, out-of-hours deliveries make a lot of sense. If you can run your operation at an alternative time of day where there is less idling time and quicker average speeds, you’re going to save fuel. Rather than try to shoe-horn deliveries into a small, highly-congested window, common sense says we should try to use other delivery windows. It needs to be done in a way that includes best practice – both technological and behavioural.”

James Hookham, MD of policy and communications at the FTA, agrees: “These trials show that quiet night-time deliveries can be done, but it’s not a question of a blanket lifting of existing delivery restrictions as every site is different and has different issues. Sometimes residents’ complaints are justified, sometimes they’re not. We now have a toolkit to show operators and retailers how they can apply to conduct their own night-time trials, which is encouraging for those who want to extend delivery windows.”

The Process

Before each trial was allowed to proceed, a working group was formed for each site, usually consisting of the store manager, local environmental health officer, someone from the QDDS project team, and the logistics/transport manager from the retailer or its third-party operator. The working group would agree the objectives for the trial and NAS would conduct a site assessment report, highlighting the key noise risk areas. In the case of Trial 1 at Sainsbury’s in Bournemouth, Dorset, the key noise pollutants were from roll cage movement, yard gates, the vehicles themselves, and unloading activity.

Driver charter

A series of actions was agreed by the working group and incorporated into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). A driver charter was developed by Sainsbury’s to brief drivers on behavioural practices when delivering to the store during the trial, such as switching off reversing alarms and engines when not moving vehicles. During the trial, weekly reports were circulated and Bournemouth Borough Council arranged for a resident to complete noise logs, which were distributed to the working group members. The members of the group remained in contact during the trial and, on review, the trial was deemed a success.

No complaints were received throughout the trial and an effective working relationship was established between Bournemouth council and Sainsbury’s. Another success was the involvement of ‘direct deliverers’ (bread and milk) in the trial and the willingness to disseminate best practice (including the contents of the driver charter) in their own businesses.

The noise-monitoring results indicated that the introduction of operational best practice can have a minor effect on the whole delivery and loading /unloading procedure. But the major contributors to noise levels remain the vehicle engine on arrival, on-site manoeuvring and departure.

In terms of operational efficiency, Sainsbury’s reported improvements in fuel consumption of 5.7% for night-time operations compared to daytime equivalents. The store also reported trading benefits of night-time deliveries with improved stock replenishment and availability, as well as better utilisation of store staff.

“The successful outcome of the trial demonstrates that working together in this way can deliver sustained results, which all parties can be satisfied with,” says Morag White, environment manager, logistics, at Sainsbury’s. “Following the trial, the delivery times have remained as they were, overseen by both parties, which continue to monitor store delivery performance.”

Lasting legacy

With the London 2012 Olympics heavily affecting deliveries next summer, many retailers need to look at ways around the Olympic Route Network (ORN) restrictions, and night-time deliveries are seen as an option.

“The Olympics are an ideal opportunity for well-managed, well-controlled, out-of-hours deliveries,” says Douglas. “There’s an ideal opportunity with the Olympics to review how deliveries take place and if best practice can be implemented in 2012, hopefully we can create a lasting legacy to service premises.”

Hookham is hopeful the QDDS results will show TfL that there is a workable solution for night-time deliveries. “We’ve pushed the boundaries back a long way with these trials. Retailers that need to extend their delivery window during the Olympics should download the guide and ensure they understand any restrictions in place on their sites. Is it a planning consent; is it a curfew restriction – they need to know why it’s in place so they can find the best way to tackle it.”

Jerry Ward, manager of legal operations at John Lewis Partnership, says: “We have to look at out-of-hours deliveries as we have a Waitrose and John Lewis store opening soon at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, close to the Olympic Park. We’ve also got a couple of Waitrose stores affected by the ORN.

“We’re trying to get information from TfL about the Olympics so we can plan, but it seems to take a long time to come through to the relevant people. We’ll look at the QDDS guide for retailers,” adds Ward.

Cost case

Wincanton has been running what it calls silent deliveries for WH Smith for the past eight years, and largely manages this through behavioural training rather than expensive quiet kit for its fleet.

Gareth Smith, Wincanton solutions director, says: “We could do more, such as investing in special quiet equipment, but with councils reticent on allowing night-time deliveries, it’s not worth it. We mainly do it through driver training – but that only takes you so far.”

Smith says it is frustrating that London boroughs make their own decisions on delivery curfews. “We might be able to deliver out-of-hours in one borough, but in the next we’re not allowed. We could do with a collective agreement among all the boroughs. That would make it worthwhile for us to invest in sliding doors, for example, rather than close-and-shut doors.

“The work we do for WH Smiths is successful – we don’t have complaints from residents. We support the trials that have been done,” adds Smith.

“For the future of high-street deliveries, we believe 50% of deliveries should be done out-of-hours. We can be more efficient and effective if we’re not caught in traffic, plus there’s less carbon being emitted. Also, there is improved safety as there’s less chance of accidents as there’s less traffic around and fewer cyclists and pedestrians.”

Consolidation centres

Smith predicts that in the future we will see pre-retail consolidation centres outside city centres. “Investing in quiet equipment is a significant capital investment, so perhaps we need to consider shared user activities on the high street. A pre-retail consolidation centre would have the final mile deliveries pre-loaded on high-spec, low-noise vehicles.”

Hookham adds: “If we don’t want all the retail outlets to be built out of town and we want to keep town centres thriving, then it should be made as easy as possible for retailers to receive deliveries.”CM06DHR

Douglas’s advice to retailers and their transport partners is to be realistic about where to consider introducing out-of-hours trials. “There may be too many sensitivities and it won’t be feasible. But for every one that isn’t, there will be lots of sites that will be perfect for quiet out-of-hours deliveries.”


  •  Provide as much in-depth information as possible (in the structure of an application form) to the local authority.
  •  Appoint a competent person to produce a site assessment report to review store delivery practices and to implement improvements to mitigate key sources of noise.
  •  Comply with all elements of the MoU prepared for the trial and ensure all store staff are made aware of the trial and its importance.
  •  Produce a driver charter to remind drivers of their obligations when delivering to where the trial is taking place.
  •  Liaise with the local authority and appoint a competent person to install noise-monitoring equipment for the duration of the trial to demonstrate that noise levels are being monitored.
  •  Engage with local residents before, during and after the trial to establish good communication links and keep residents informed of general store activity.
  •  Collate key data before and during the trial for analysis to assess and present the benefits of the new delivery times on store performance and transport operational efficiency.
  •  Be responsive to local residents’ concerns and make efforts to address complaints.
  •  Ensure own vehicles and those of suppliers do not arrive at the store too early, in advance of the agreed delivery window, and avoid vehicles waiting near to residential properties.
  • For curfews imposed through planning restrictions, retailers need to invest time in completing application forms and assembling supporting documents to ensure full compliance with the statutory processes. Retailers also need to be aware that despite their efforts, there is no certainty that restrictions will actually be revised.
  •  When planning store developments, consider the proximity of service yards and delivery bays to residential properties, effectively designing out potential conflict as far as possible.
  •  Be aware that breaches of existing restrictions or of those in place during the trial may lead to closer scrutiny of their activities by local authorities.
  •  Be aware of the delivery curfew restriction types and develop an understanding of how to deal with each.


Improving delivery times on the quiet

Reduced fuel consumption, reduced round trip times, improved shift productivity, reduced store turnaround times, increased product availability, less congestion, better air quality, reduced carbon emissions – all are proven benefits that out-of-hours deliveries can provide.

Yet many local authorities are reluctant to give the green light to out-of-hours deliveries for fear of upsetting local residents – and it takes only one complaint to upset the apple cart. Also, many retailers inherit statutory planning conditions put in place years ago when the site was used by another business, and these are a lot trickier to overcome.

Last week the FTA, the DfT and the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) brought the issue to the fore with the unveiling of the results of the Quiet Delivery Demonstration Scheme (QDDS) trials (see p3). These involved trials at six separate sites belonging to Tesco, Superdrug, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury’s.

Although not all the trials were able to proceed in their entirety, valuable lessons were learned, and the QDDS team has created two guides – one for retailers and one for local authorities – that can be used to assist both parties on the journey to quiet night time deliveries.

With the disruption to the supply chain that the London 2012 Olympics is going to cause, operators and their customers need to look at extending their delivery windows to certain sites, so these guides will be invaluable.

Interestingly, although there is now an array of quiet delivery equipment available for operators to use, the trials revealed that an incremental reduction in noise can be achieved purely from behavioural changes. For instance, training drivers to turn off their radios when they enter a store’s yard and not slamming their doors etc. However, noise from vehicle engines remains the biggest contributor to ambient noise levels.

Still, for those interested in extending the delivery window, the QDDS trials have shown that quiet deliveries can work. Not all sites will be appropriate for night-time deliveries, but if you can operate at an alternative to the peak traffic times, resulting in less idling time and quicker average speeds, isn’t it worth considering for some of your sites at least?

The QDDS guides are available free from the FTA, the NAS, and the DfT’s websites.

Night-time deliveries can save fuel and CO2

Operators can reduce their fuel bills and lower their carbon emissions if they are allowed to make out-of-hours deliveries.

The results of the Quiet Deliveries Demonstration Scheme (QDDS) trials, unveiled last week, show a raft of operational benefits as well as wider gains for local communities.

Developed jointly by the FTA, the Noise Abatement Society, and the DfT, the QDDS involved trials at six sites belonging to Tesco, Superdrug, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury’s.

Although only four of the trials were completed, there were still valuable lessons learnt. Two guides – one for retailers and one for local authorities – have been created.

FTA director of policy and communications James Hookham says: “We now have a toolkit to show how quiet deliveries can be achieved. It’s encouraging for those who want to extend their delivery windows. There are significant benefits to be had – both commercially and environmentally.”

QDDS project manager and director of TTR, Chris Douglas, points out that not every site will be suitable for night-time deliveries so retailers need to be realistic about where they introduce out-of-hours trials.

“But these trials prove that operators can undertake deliveries outside of normal working hours in a well-managed, well-controlled way and not upset local residents.”

The cost of investing in quiet equipment may put off some companies, but Douglas adds: “A small incremental reduction in noise can be achieved by behavioural changes alone.”

Wincanton solutions director Gareth Smith agrees: “For our silent deliveries for WH Smith we have invested only in training drivers on behavioural changes. We could invest in quiet technology but with councils reticent on allowing night-time deliveries it’s not in our interest to make such a huge capital investment in equipment.”

To download the full results, go to www.fta.co.uk. See MT 11 July for an analysis of the results.


Love thy neighbour

As noise complaints about operators increase, Roger Brown looks at ways to keep local residents happy

Road transport can be a noisy business, and operators could be vulnerable to noise complaints from nearby residents and businesses.

However, experts tell MT that many noise disturbance problems with neighbours can be tackled if firms adopt a two- pronged approach: better training for drivers and greater investment in noise reduction technology.

Behavioural changes

According to Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy for the South East, drivers should be encouraged to switch off their engines and refrigerator units when they are in the yard and to stop slamming truck doors or dragging exit gates.

“Companies should consider training to promote behavioural changes among drivers and warehouse staff,” she adds.

Lisa Lavia, MD of the Noise Abatement Society (NAS), believes haulage firms need to ingrain noise reduction procedures in the culture of the business in the same way they do health and safety procedures.

“Because delivery yards have lots of hard surfaces and cavernous structures, noise tends to bounce around and create vibrations through the yard,” says Lavia.

“As a boss, ask your drivers not to scrape their wheels against kerbs, not to have their radios on loud at delivery points, tell them not to shout or throw boxes into the back of vehicles. If possible, give drivers an incentive, perhaps a financial bonus, to do this.”


Person speaking through megaphone © 2000 EyeWire Inc.

Noise reduction measures

  • Switch off engines in the yard
  • Don’t slam doors or drag gates
  • Turn off radios
  • No shouting or throwing objects
  • Fit acoustics sensors and quiet reversing alarms
  • Plant trees to act as a noise barrier


The other obvious answer is to invest in anti-noise technology, but often the cost can discourage hauliers. However, as Chapman points out, alterations to premises and fitting quiet kit to engines and acoustic sensors to trailers can be expensive, “but such measures may prevent costly legal disputes further down the line”.

Lavia adds: “Quiet reversing alarms are easy to fit and worth the investment, as well as investing in new fleets, broadband sound reversing alarms and quiet roller shutter doors.”

But are residents becoming more forthright about airing their grievances?

“It’s a change from years ago; residents are much more likely to complain and complain more effectively than before,” says Lavia. “They will write to MPs and councillors, contact local newspapers and attend meetings.”

Chapman agrees: “People seem more prepared to pick up the phone these days and get the local authority involved.”

Although the NAS has not noticed an increase in noise prosecution cases by councils, Lavia believes there is a trend by council planners – particularly in London boroughs such as Southwark and Westminster – to insert noise-related conditions at the planning stage.

“Noise conditions are there to fix a potential problem,” says Lavia. “However, we find operators are generally very receptive to such ideas because the haulage industry is already a heavily regulated one.”

Objections can be made on environmental grounds such as noise, fumes, pollution, vibration and visual intrusion. Other grounds for complaint include the suitability of the operating centre for the size and number of vehicles and trailers, parking facilities and the safety of the entrance and exit arrangements.

Last month, MT reported on a case that illustrated the willingness of local authorities to crack down on transport operators that breach plan-ning notices.

The three owners of Nijjar Dairies – trading as Freshways – were fined a total of £57,000 (including costs) at Acton Magistrates’ Court for breaches at the company’s depot in Acton, West London.

Planning notices

Nijjar Dairies had ignored Ealing Council planning notices to plant trees to act as a noise barrier and visual screen at the site, authorised for 25 vehicles and three trailers. The court was told how the number of movements at the site sometimes exceeded 1,000 a day.

Councillor Julian Bell, Ealing council leader, says his authority “will not hesitate” to take similar action against transport businesses in the future. “This is a substantial fine for a company that repeatedly ignored planning notices over a prolonged period of time,” he explains. “Had Nijjar Dairies taken the simple actions we advised, it would have avoided this fine.”

Another case saw Cranleigh Freight Services (CFS) appear at a Public Inquiry last month, following an objection from Surrey County Council because of noise complaints from nearby residents. Although CFS won its bid to continue with 70 vehicles and 70 trailers at its Dunsfold Park facility in Surrey, the Traffic Commissioner (TC) imposed restrictions on vehicle movements covering weekends, bank holidays and nights.

Chapman says problems sometimes occur where there is a well established, well run depot in existence but residential properties then get built close to the site.

She adds: “It’s unfair on the company but it is often the new residents who make the complaints.”

Jack Semple, RHA policy director, agrees that new housing developments can present problems for hauliers, but believes the “diversity of haulage premises” must be protected.

He adds: “Any excessive concentration of truck operating sites will lead to excessive mileage and emissions and increase pressure on the availability of lorry drivers.“

However, Ian Baxter, MD at RH Freight, is an enthusiast for more so-called “freight parks,” in the UK, built away from residential areas.

Operator clusters

Barcelona has a logistics zone next to the port area with transport firms located together,” he says. “These areas are designed for transport businesses and have excellent infrastructure links – we need more of them here.”

The FTA’s advice to hauliers is that if a problem should develop, “don’t ignore it, deal with it”.

“It is important for transport firms to talk to residents, discuss the issues and come up with a compromise if necessary,” Chapman explains. “Conversations early on will nip any problems in the bud,” she adds.

The RHA’s Semple says: “We always advise members to adopt a good neighbour policy, minimising disruption where they can, although we would hope members do that anyway.”

DBC opts for DAFs with quiet fridges

DBC Foodservice has taken delivery of 35 dual-compartment 12- and 18-tonne DAF LF55 220’s from Ryder to deliver frozen food to high street restaurants and cafés.

DBC has taken the vehicles on a contract-hire basis because they run a Frigoblock refrigeration system. This is powered by the truck’s engine, reducing the noise associated with self-powered refrigeration units and enabling early or late deliveries in residential areas.

The firm operates from 14 sites throughout the UK. Customers include Caffè Nero, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Loch Fyne and Little Chef.

Silent night trials to take place in 2010

The Noise Abatement Society (NAS) has confirmed that it will be conducting six night-time delivery trials across the UK in 2010 in partnership with the DfT and the FTA.

The trials will assess the potential benefits of out-of-hours deliveries for operators and any negative impacts on local residents.

Lisa Lavia, MD at the NAS, says the locations for the night-time trials will only be decided in early 2010.

Currently curfews vary from council to council and on a store-by-store basis depending on their proximity to residential areas.

However, quieter vehicles, such as hybrid and electric models, have proved that near-silent operation is achievable.

Lavia adds: “Quiet equipment is always welcome, but it’s only one part of the solution because along with quieter equipment you also need to mitigate behaviour on night-time deliveries to make the entire operation as quiet as possible.”

Gordon Telling, FTA London policy manager, says: “The benefits of night-time deliveries are reduced road congestion and improved fuel consumption for operators.

“There are also fewer pedestrians and less traffic to contend with out of peak hours,” he adds.

Silence is golden for hauliers

Extending night-time delivery window could provide substantial cost savings for operators

Operators should consider adopting quieter delivery methods ahead of the introduction of a common standard across Europe.

The Noise Abatement Society (NAS) says the European Union is looking to embrace quiet delivery as a common approach across Europe and anticipates it happening as soon as 2010/2011.

Operators may be reluctant to fork out money to comply with yet another piece of Brussels legislation, however, there are immense cost savings to be had if hauliers can make the majority of their deliveries at night, says NAS.

The FTA’s policy chief for the Midlands and Western region, Stephen Kelly, adds: “As our roads are so congested in the day, it makes complete sense for local authorities to allow more deliveries at night. For operators it improves fuel consumption, journey times and man hours, as well as providing environmental benefits.”

NAS backs this up with the results of its Silent Approach scheme adopted by Sainsbury’s Wandsworth branch last year. In 12 months, the scheme has saved the branch £76,000 in diesel in 12 months; reduced all journeys to the branch by 30 minutes each way; saved the store £16,000 a year in drivers’ wages; and cut £10,000 off the store’s Congestion Charge bill.

Peter Wakeham, director at NAS, says: “These savings are phenomenal and they are just for one branch – Sainsbury’s has 385 stores with night-time delivery restrictions, so imagine the savings they could make if they could adopt Silent Approach across them all.”

Silent Approach involves NAS contacting the local authority on behalf of the store to ask for the night-time delivery restriction to be lifted if the store adopts measures to ensure quiet deliveries.

NAS conducts a site visit and during a four-week trial assesses the noise levels. The retailer pays NAS to conduct the monitoring and acoustic testing, but as Elliott points out, these costs are recouped almost instantly. “Sainsbury’s saw a full return in its first week of trading with the extended delivery hours,” she says.

NAS is keen to work with more operators to adopt Silent Approach and is currently in talks with Tesco to run a trial in Camden. To contact NAS, call: 01273 823 850.

Consolidation centres: urban myth?

Proof of the success of urban consolidation centres is difficult to find, yet local authorities are lining up to announce their interest in them.

Since the turn of the century, the increasing use of the phrase ‘urban consolidation centre’ (UCC) among local authorities has also reflected a significant growth in plans to build these logistics facilities.

But despite the theoretical benefits that these ambitious initiatives are capable of, there is still a startling lack of evidence to prove their efficacy one way or another.

In fact, their proliferation within local transport plans, seemingly as an environmental panacea, prompted one analyst, who wishes to remain anonymous, to suggest that UCCs were nothing more than a “gimmick”.

This scathing remark is not easily dismissed. According to a transport paper published last summer by the University of Westminster, “to date there has been a lack of evidence-based information upon which potential operators [of UCCs], be they logistics providers or local authorities, can base decisions as to the viability of such initiatives”.

Professor Michael Browne, who helped write the paper, says one problem is that UCC operators struggle to put a value on the reduction in vehicle/km achieved for customers. But of more concern is the funding issue. “To get one started, you need public funding,” he says. “But then can you actually over a certain period of time get it to be self supported?”

For the moment, the answer to this remains unclear – there is little evidence of a consolidation centre being financially viable in the medium- to long-term. But this hasn’t stopped Glasgow and York joining other cities, such as Southampton and Birmingham, in announcing their intentions to look into the potential of developing a UCC to reduce congestion.

UCCs have evolved from the basic trans-shipment centres that emerged 30 years ago to become sophisticated operating centres situated on the edge of cities today. Acting as the middleman between the haulier delivering goods into them and the retailer, construction site, or other business that ultimately receives the freight, they can consolidate deliveries and offer value-added logistics and retail services for the customer. In simple terms, they strive to reduce the numbers of lorries delivering into congested city centres by using one truck to carry out multi-drops.

Bristol UCC: Bristol launched its UCC as a trial in 2004, making deliveries to retailers in the Broadmead retailing district. It is close to the M4 and M32 and has 5,000ft2 of space. Suitable customers were identified as medium-sized business selling non-perishable goods and non high-value goods. Deliveries are made via 7.5-tonne and 17-tonne vehicles. It also offers value-added services. Initial results showed a 68% reduction in vehicle trips into Bristol city centre for retailers. As well as 5.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions being saved, it has also prevented 840gms of NOx and 11,374gms of PM10 emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

When considering consolidation centres, many quote Bristol’s as a success. It has seen a large drop in vehicle trips into the city centre for the 64 businesses within the Broadmead retailing district signed up to the scheme. And there is the potential for dozens more if negotiations with the developers of a new, huge shopping regeneration project in the city prove fruitful. Ultimately, these negotiations will be key to the scheme’s future success.

Future funding

The city council made the most of available European funding from the beginning and launched the UCC as a pilot, with retailers able to join on a voluntary basis. The trial proved a success and was extended, eventually beyond the end of the time limit imposed by the European Commission’s Vivaldi fund. DHL-Exel runs the operation.

However, the UCC has now reached a critical period where Bristol City Council is reducing its own subsidies each year and success is dependent on retailers paying to be involved in the scheme. The council’s transport planning officer, Tim Hatgood, says: “In terms of the funding, the council helps support it through its revenue budget. The council is happy to subsidise it, but wants to see it falling. It’s a constant year-on-year reduction.”

Hatgood says the exact amount of funding is commercially sensitive, but concedes that currently it is 65% of the total revenue invested. The remaining 35% comes from two sources: one is another European grant, but Hatgood says the majority now comes from retailers.

He adds: “The biggest problem we have in Bristol is participation by retailers on a voluntary basis. The ideal scenario would be similar to that at Heathrow, where there is a landlord. That’s got to be the future. We don’t have any way to force customers to pay.”

Heathrow is possibly the only other retail UCC that can be described as a success, but its situation is unique: as the landlord, BAA insists that the retailers within its terminals use its dedicated consolidation centre. According to Browne’s 2007 paper, it also has set ground rules under which DHL-Exel manages it.

“It appears that imposed UCC solutions are successful only if the imposing organisation is able to control or strongly influence all the players,” the report says. “In contrast, voluntary schemes seem often loosely constituted and made up of variety of players and vested interests. In some cases, these schemes appear to have been established with only limited research and analysis. As a result, in the absence of early success, the arrangements quickly dissolve.”

Retailer input
London construction consolidation centre: This began as a £3.2m pilot study in 2005 and was made up of a partnership between Stanhope, Bovis Lend Lease, Transport for London and logistics operator Wilson James. Initially it operated from a 53,820ft2 facility and processed more than 200,000 pallets of construction project materials per year. The study revealed some barriers to success, including lack of financial incentives, industry fragmentation and a business case yet to be demonstrated. When the trial came to an end, Wilson James reviewed the scheme and decided to move the centre to near London City Airport, in Silvertown. Materials and plant are now delivered to a 64,583ft2 site, which currently services Skanska’s £1.2bn Barts Hospital project and a StructureTone city project. According to Wilson James, it has reduced construction freight-related journeys by 68%, reduced CO2 emissions by 70% and supplier journey times are now just two hours per journey. Since 2006, it has won three environmental awards and a ‘Best Project Collaboration’ award.

Over in Norwich the picture is not quite as rosy. Mindful of the revenue Bristol City Council invests into its UCC, Norwich County Council decided from the outset that retailers must pay to use the UCC. This has resulted in a “challenging” sales process, where the operator of the UCC, Foulger Transport, has had to convince companies of the benefits without them experiencing a trial.

Another issue that has split opinion among councillors is an initiative dreamed up to entice retailers on board: use of the bus and cycle lanes in Norwich only by Foulger lorries making deliveries to retailers signed up to the scheme.

At present, the UCC has two customers on board, with negotiations taking place with two more. Foulger Transport business development manager Graham Mayes says selling the benefits of the UCC have proven difficult: “When we started we didn’t fully realise the time it takes to get to talk to some of the decision makers. I had a meeting last week with one company, [yet] we started talking to them back in August.

“It’s taken about eight or nine months to get to the point where we can sit down and talk about it,” he adds.

Fundamental to many local authorities’ plans for UCCs are the environmental benefits that can be achieved. Hatgood says this has helped in getting retailers involved over in Bristol, but Mayes is not convinced: “Generally it does [work]; people want to be on board with green initiatives, but not if there’s a significant change in service levels or a significant change in cost. At that point the green issue goes right out of the window.”

Another problem is the perceived commercially sensitive information held by a logistics firm running a UCC. If Aberdeen suddenly announces it wants to launch a UCC, but wants existing operators to share information with it on how to run it, who’s going to help? As Mayes says: “How is that knowledge and experience shared? How do you build the awareness and where do you get the expertise from?”

York City Council has become the latest authority to announce its interest in building a UCC, in order to ease the serious congestion problems councillor Christian Vassey says the city endures. He is optimistic of the centres’ green credentials and believes their success relies on a ‘stick and carrot’ approach; allowing UCC customers to publicise the benefits of their environmentally-conscious commercial decisions, as well as a stick in the form of a low-emission zone, or congestion charge, which might encourage take-up and also fund the centre.

Vassey says: “One of the triggers to making this change happen is to make sure that the public at the end of the line can see which retailers have bought into this, and ensure the end user can make choices between those retailers being more environmental and those that aren’t.”

Environmental gains
Heathrow airport retail UCC: This UCC at Hatton Cross commenced in 2000 as a trial with an initial five-year contract. This has since been extended. It supplies all retail outlets at the airport’s four terminals from a 25,000ft2 warehouse and exists through a partnership between BAA (the landlord) and DHL-Exel. Since 2004 it has been compulsory for retailers to be involved. Results from 2004 show that the centre received 20,000 vehicle deliveries. This resulted in 45,000 store deliveries being made from the centre on 5,000 vehicle trips. CO2 savings of 3,100kg per week were being made in 2004.

Vassey says his driving mechanism is purely the environmental benefits he believes are achievable through UCCs. He admits the presence of UCCs within local transport plans are borne out of a desire by local authorities to “second guess what the latest hot topic is within government” and therefore attract funds.

He also argues that whether a UCC is viable or not misses the point: “Climate change is not waiting for us to get our act together. Tackling climate change is about taking steps. Whether [UCCs] answer everything or not is irrelevant. Quite a lot of what we are doing now is intermediary. It may be they operate for 10 years and then we find a better way to do things.

“What matters most is we start doing stuff. It’s so easy to waste decades talking about stuff and not doing it.”

Westminster University’s transport studies group was also involved in a 2005 report, commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) into the use of UCCs. When asked if it had acted on any of the recommendations made in the study relating to their future success a DfT spokesman hints at the government’s continuing concerns: “While UCCs can have local benefits, there are other considerations to take into account,” he explains. “These include the effect on the supply chain from moving traffic to other parts of the network and the type of retail or other area it is servicing. The costs and benefits of operating centres are variable and depend on the ability to channel economic savings back into operating costs.”

The spokesman continues: “It is clear that decisions concerning the development of UCCs have to be taken at a local level and the responsibility rests with local rather than central government. However, where we see there are tangible benefits, we will continue to promote the concept with our industry and local government stakeholders.”