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Sustainable Logistics – The Clean Air Catch 22

The logistics sector is currently in the midst of significant growth, investment and change that is being shaped not just by emerging policy and legislation but by the behaviours and values of the society in which we now live.

The demand for logistics is expected to rise steeply over the next 30 years as the online purchasing power of ‘Millennials’ reaches its full potential and ‘next day deliveries’ potentially replace our UK high streets and shopping centres, placing an increasing strain on transport infrastructure. Retail now accounts for 57% of all large units, typically 100,000 sq ft or more[1].

The European Commission White Paper on Transport sets out a target for 60% less Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from transport by 2050. This could be hugely challenging for the industry - over three times as many goods were moved by road as by rail and water combined during 2016-2017[2].

Added to this, most of the emissions that contribute significantly to climate change are also detrimental to the quality of the air we breathe. Poor air quality is now a critical problem. It is the top environmentally related health risk in the UK and is reported to be responsible for around 40,000 early deaths every year[3].

The draft Clean Air Strategy

DEFRA published the draft Clean Air Strategy in May 2018 which is under consultation until the 14 August. The draft document details the efforts of industry and the government to date to reduce air pollution from two central sources: road transport and industrial level burning of fossil fuels, through clean fuel incentives and investment in new technology[4]. Addressing both air quality and climate change issues presents a rare opportunity not only to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions, but to open up new development strategies and opportunities for economic growth such as alternative fuels, new vehicle and product design, and supply chains in line with the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

If the draft Strategy is correct, the key to improved air quality and reduction of GHG emissions from the logistics sector will be long-term development and deployment of cost-effective options for a shift from road to low emission rail freight. Whilst this modal shift to rail for distribution between cities is clearly required, delivery into urban areas and securing zero emissions from last mile distribution are major opportunities that require ‘thinking outside of the box’ strategies for emerging policy and project design.

Clean Air Zones and Intelligent Land Use

The opportunity for regions to create Clear Air Zones (CAZs) has long been considered to be the fastest route to improving air quality in urban areas. Some of the UK's major cities, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton and Derby, will all see CAZs introduced over the next few years. Among the first authorities to outline its proposals in detail is Leeds City Council, which has proposed a £100 per-day levy charge to operate Euro V or earlier diesel HGVs within a designated city centre zone.  Birmingham City Council has also recently announced its CAZ proposals ahead of consultation plans over the summer which include a daily charge ranging from £6- £100 for polluting vehicles inside the Middle Ring Road (A4540) from 2020. Unfortunately, there are currently only around five years’ worth of CAZ compliant HGVs in the UK and almost no second hand market for smaller UK logistics firms to upgrade from, meaning that many will not have the option to upgrade their fleet before these zones come into effect.

Also key will be to avoid fuelling the ongoing battle between residential and logistics land uses and improve the efficiency and resilience of the sector and its wider implications on our transport network. Forward thinking clients view the future of logistics as more intelligent use of land, either combined with other employment uses upon sites or within multi-level buildings which include residential development in a new model for city centre living. Others are attempting to remove the land use issue altogether to create new ‘real life’ retail experiences through online initiatives, the most obvious example being the steady rise of the Amazon Treasure Truck, a particularly clever combination offering flexible pick up locations and a last mile delivery service to urban centres.

Air pollution in the capital

In London, the primary focus on policy to reduce air pollution is around road transport, including the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone within the City of London from April 2019 and 12 proposed low emission bus zones. Two of these zones were implemented in 2017 with the remaining ten to be delivered by 2020. The Mayor's Transport Strategy 2018 includes moves towards urban consolidation centres (supported by the draft London Plan, March 2018), the announcement of a Delivery Reduction Fund to support implementation, and a Freight Action Plan due to be published in autumn 2018. As an area facing considerable pressure for space on the streets and the associated air quality and congestion issues, the City of London Corporation is paving the way with their use written into planning obligations for new office buildings, following the example at 22 Bishopsgate. The Corporation is also going the extra mile: it is implementing consolidated deliveries for its own Corporation offices as a demonstrator. Consolidation centres are part of one of three freight ambitions of the City of London: re-moding to consolidation and cycles; making better use of the river; and, implementation of cleaner and quieter vehicles such as electric refuse trucks.

Following the Draft Environmental Strategy earlier in the year, the Mayor’s focus on air quality is reinforced within the Draft London Plan, with all new development subject to Environmental Impact Assessment and expected to be ‘Air Quality Neutral’ or, in Opportunity Areas, ‘Air Quality Positive’. What this means, is that measures must be implemented across the development area that will actively reduce air pollution. This may include the provision of low or zero-emission heating and energy or smart infrastructure to prevent dispersion of pollutants and improvements to public transport and/or pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

Future Gazing

A study by The National Infrastructure Commission on the future of freight infrastructure will be published in spring 2019 and will look at urban congestion, decarbonisation and how to harness the potential of new innovations and technologies such as HGV platooning; alternative fuels; smart signals or ‘FlexKerbs’ to reduce road congestion as well as projected uptake of electric, connected and autonomous vehicles and the potential for the introduction of dedicated lanes/roads.

It is certainly likely that a cultural shift away from private cars to walking, cycling and public transport will play a big role in tackling the air quality crisis in urban centres.  Going one step beyond CAZs, some predict an almost complete pedestrianizing of our major cities over the next decade which would also help people to lead more active lifestyles. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy announced that £1.2 billion will be invested up until 2021 to double the level of cycling and reverse the decline in walking by making it safer and more convenient.

Similarly, it is likely that last mile delivery will need to shift to more sustainable transport modes (re-moding) such as electric scooters and e-cargo bikes for local urban deliveries whilst the technologies that allow low emission mass transport of goods have time to reach maturity and price parity with their polluting counterparts. There are a number of examples of re-moding already being delivered or in development including the UPS ‘e-trike’, City Sprint cargo bikes and the Loadhog which has been developed for 22 Bishopsgate to deal with deliveries to multiple storey’s. Ultimately, everyone will have a part to play in making urban areas more environmentally sustainable, including the logistics sector.

Can anyone else see the ‘Treasure Trike’ in our future?

For further information on any of the above, or to find out how Turley can help, please contact the Sustainability team.

20 June 2018

[1] UK INDUSTRIAL & LOGISTICS MARKET BAROMETER Spring 2017, Colliers International, http://www.colliers.com

[2] Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017 (Department for Transport)

[3] Royal College of Physicians. Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution. Report of a working party. London: RCP, 2016.

[4] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Clean Air Strategy 2018



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