Developing Inland Freight Management Strategies for UK Ports

Developing Inland Freight Management Strategies for UK Ports


S Tucker, R McCulloch, David Tucker Associates, UK


This paper reports on studies which examine the opportunities to significantly enhance the transport efficiency of inland freight distribution and the impact of those enhancements on both traffic congestion and the environment.


Historically, trade routes were established based on the location of raw materials, ability to create transport links and the location of markets. However, with the spread of globalisation, increased growth of commercial competition and the need to transport larger quantities of material, new distribution patterns emerged. These were based on creating key nodes within the supply chain based on factors such as location of existing major ports, availability of cheap land and labour and accessibility to transport corridors.

At the time of this rationalisation, primarily during the 1970s and 80s, freight haul distances were not considered to be a major factor as transport costs were low and suitable transport was readily available. The development of this network and its associated transport links became a self-fulfilling prophecy and, in many cases, led to the expansion of transport corridors to accommodate the freight movements. Little attention was paid to the longer term consequences associated with this approach particularly in relation to transport sustainability and climate impact.

During the 1990s the world became more aware of both the cost and the environmental impact of travel. Initially, attempts were made to minimize impacts by changing mode where possible (such as road to rail and short sea shipping) and increasing efficiency with initiatives such as back-loading. Little attention was paid as to whether the distribution network itself was optimised to serve the key markets.

In the UK this attitude to distribution was typified by the concentration of imports through the major deep sea ports at Southampton and Felixstowe and the creation of major distribution hubs in the East Midlands where labour and land costs were relatively low. This was despite the fact that nearly 50% of incoming goods into the UK are destined for the Greater South East of which over half are for Greater London with an average haul distance of some 200 km from the East Midlands which, in turn, is over 220 kms from the ports.

Over the next 20 years there will be a significant expansion in port capacity for unitised freight (containers). In the UK, this capacity will include the expansion of Bristol Port, the development of a new deep sea container terminal and distribution park at London Gateway and development of freight hubs along the Manchester Ship Canal. All of these schemes are designed to improve efficiency of freight handling to reduce transport network congestion, minimise environmental impact and reduce basic commodity costs.

At London Gateway alone the potential benefit of locating a distribution Park adjacent to the Port will be to remove some 78 million HGV km per year from the UK road system whilst the location of the Port in close proximity to its major market will remove some 45m HGV km per year. The associated reductions in CO2 will be some 74,000 and 42,000 tonnes per year respectively.

The regulatory planning process in the UK focuses on identifying specific interventions, typically infrastructure enhancements, to adapt the road network to accommodate new or expanded ports. In these cases the port promoter is generally seeking to reduce their own capital commitment for such off-site improvements. Any interventions, including freight management plans, focus on immediate access to the port rather than the wider road network. However, in operational terms the commercial attractiveness of the port is dependent on its location in relation to likely inland markets, connectivity to the strategic road network and performance of the strategic road network as a whole.

With limited empirical data on the actual performance of the road network, the commercial decision for shipping companies can be heavily influenced by the perceived performance of the road network. For instance, even thought it caters for significant demand for most of the day, the M25 has been called the world's largest car park. This has the potential to factor against ports located in areas with perceived congestion even though there are significant advantages not least in terms of proximity to market; a typical example is the South East of England.

Against this background this paper reports on studies which examine the opportunities to significantly enhance the transport efficiency of inland freight distribution and the impact of those enhancements on both traffic congestion and the environment. It also includes examples of how the rationalisation of distribution networks can reduce pressure on existing transport infrastructure.

The primary output of the study is to identify operational transport strategies in terms of freight management at the ports. This will draw upon published policies and emerging best practice both in the UK and from other European Countries.


Association for European Transport