UK Freight: In for the long haul?

This report consists of five short papers which look at UK freight's key issues: future-proofing the transport network, creating a joined-up approach, the introduction of new technologies, environmental impact and skills challenges.

To remain internationally competitive, the UK needs a robust and resilient transport system. The UK relies on intelligent support to provide a world-class, fully sustainable freight and logistics sector. The challenges of population growth and changes in consumer behaviour need to be managed alongside the introduction of new technologies.

During 2015 we conducted a series of workshops across all freight stakeholders, to gather the views from a wide range of transport and logistics specialists. The consensus is that our transport network and infrastructure are not fit for purpose to meet our future needs. Policymakers need to address the issues that are blighting performance, and impacting the UK public. These key issues include: congestion that affects everyday life; emissions and air quality that affect the public’s health and well-being; and an imbalance between transport systems that threatens economic growth.

We welcome the creation of a National Infrastructure Commission. We recommend that it adopts an integrated approach that recognises the changes in the system that are not infrastructure-led, but may well require infrastructure modifications (for example electric vehicles, electrified rail connections to ports). Encouragingly ‘Transport for the North’ 1 already recognises the need not only for individual upgrading of road, rail, sea and air, but also for a “Northern multi-modal freight and logistics strategy to inform future development of transport investment”. With transport producing 25% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, there needs to be a holistic approach to emissions reduction set as a parallel objective. Implicit in the development of a national strategy is the importance given to low-emission vehicle development, and emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and platooning of lorry flows on motorways. The significant improvements in the air-quality emissions performance of new freight vehicles over recent years, particularly with the latest generation of Euro VI vehicles, now need to be matched by similar improvements in fuel efficiency.

We have identified barriers that need to be considered in the design of the process. Key to these are the generation and co-operative sharing of information. Indications are that understanding of significant flows in terms of value, volume and mass is inhibited by lack of complete origin and destination data, some of which is seen as commercially sensitive. Productivity and efficiency are inhibited by slow adoption of computerised systems for goods tracking and documentation, although the evidence for this is largely anecdotal. Historically, it is likely that differing fiscal imperatives have become embedded and insulate providers from their full external costs. Complete UK metrics are not easily available. Similarly some emissions regulation may have slowed the adoption of the best technology. Access costs for new rail connections seem very high, and emerging signalling technology may not help. The apparent preference for short sea crossings is introducing far too many goods into the country via the South East ports, adding to congestion on key road routes around London. 

Related links

Read the press release.
Visit the Transport theme.


All reports and policies

Browse all our reports, policy statements, consultation responses and presidential addresses

View all

Have a question?

Contact our press team.