Industry calls for coastal shipping revival

Making better use of Britain's coastal waters and estuaries could make a huge dent in the carbon emissions linked to freight transport.

Peter Ward of industry group Freight by Water argued the case for a modal shift away from land freight at an event put on by Westminster Energy Environment & Transport to look at decarbonising the UK’s transport system.

“The situation in this country is absolutely unsustainable,” he said.

“We need to move [freight] from the roads and start using the waterways.”

He said he was not advocating opening up the Grand Union Canal and a return to Victorian times, but rather to make better use of the UK’s coastal and estuarine ports.

Road freight best practice such as fuel efficient driving techniques and load management are all a step in the right direction, he said, but are effectively tinkering round the edges rather than grasping the nettle and addressing the root of the problem – that we have too many vehicles on our roads.

“We need a major modal shift,” he said.

A thousand ton coaster – not a large ship by any stretch – is twice as fuel efficient as road freight and the efficiency gains increase as the ships get larger.

Moving goods using a two thousand ton coaster is three times as efficient as by lorry, for example.

He said progress was being made in some areas – ships got supplies in and out of Leeds during the worst of the winter weather he said, while major retailers were working with the industry to transport groceries and other goods from East London depots up the Thames to the heart of the city.

At the end of the day, Mr Ward argued, it was a PR battle – the ships and facilities are already there, or can be revived with commitment and investment, but the customer base needs to want to change.

He said: “We need to tell the likes of Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco [and others clued up on the sustainability agenda] to stop tinkering around the edges, change some habits and actually drive some serious change.”

Sam Bond

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