Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Burford Group PLC (IW 10)



  Following the Government's publication of Waterways for Tomorrow as a daughter document to the Integrated Transport White Paper the House of Commons Environmental, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has resolved to hold an enquiry to examine the proposals and the extent to which they can be implemented. It is noted that the inquiry intends to look at the potential of inland waterways and wish to inquire particularly into a number of issues, one of which includes freight—the main concern of this memorandum submitted by Burford Group Plc.

  There appears to be general consensus on the driving forces identified behind Government policy. These are the growing concerns being expressed about worsening road congestion levels and environmental impact, especially the contribution to air pollution. The Government's objective of seeking a better use from all transport modes, including water is detailed. Reference is made to encouraging greater use of inland waterways, where this is a practical and economic option. In essence, a reading of recent official publications show that the Government is pledged to making better use of coastal shipping and inland waterways. This memorandum puts the issues and Government policy into context and Burford's interest in water freight transport.


  Burford Group Plc is a publicly quoted property investment and development company with gross assets exceeding £1 billion. It operates predominantly in the UK and covers all property sectors including distribution and industrial property. It intends to set up a linked UK network of large distribution and manufacturing parks with multimodal capabilities.


  According to the remit of the inquiry inland waterways is defined to include both tidal and non-tidal rivers and canals. Within this context Burford expresses an interest in the River Severn and large canals, such as the Manchester Ship Canal, which are capable of catering for coastal or ocean going ships. We do not address the issue of narrow boat canals, which are mainly targeted for leisure purposes. However, we do believe large canals and rivers are a greatly under utilised national asset, which if properly used can allow deep inland penetration to serve major conurbations, are energy efficient transport modes, can contribute to lowering Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions and overall assist the Government in its integrated transport policy and meeting set environmental targets.

  The aspect of inland waterways and freight potential has direct relevance to Burford's on-going intermodal freight developments. Currently, Burford is engaged in developing two large scale intermodal freight developments which are road/rail served. Both sites also have the potential for a water freight element. These include:

    —  Cabot Park—International Rail Freight Terminal, Manufacturing and Distribution Park, adjacent to Avonmouth Docks; and

    —  Trafford Interchange—Manufacturing and Distribution Park, adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal.

  Additionally, it is anticipated that Burford will have an interest in developing other intermodal sites. These, it is expected, will also contain a water element.


  The inquiry is interested in how waterborne freight transport can assist in meeting the objectives of the Government's Integrated Transport White Paper. These objectives are detailed in two key documents. The 1998 White Paper, A New Deal for Transport: Better For Everyone and the 1999 daughter document, Sustainable Distribution: A Strategy. For clarification purposes we believe it is worthwhile reiterating the Government objectives, which are:

    —  to improve the efficiency of distribution;

    —  minimise congestion;

    —  make better use of the transport infrastructure;

    —  manage development pressures on the landscape—both natural and man made;

    —  reduce noise and disturbance from freight movements; and

    —  reduce the number of accidents, injuries and cases of ill-health associated with freight movement.

  Burford believes that intermodal freight developments having an inland water element can assist towards the achievement of the above objectives.


  Burford, as a responsible and caring developer, has kept fully abreast of environmental and transport issues. Burford's approach has been to ensure that their intermodal developments are full square in line with Government policy. We support an integrated transport policy, making best use of all available modes where this is appropriate, economical and practical. We also recognise the importance and significance of sustainability. Sustainability is not only a domestic issue, it is a world-wide issue with influence and impact for us all. Both at Cabot Park and Trafford Interchange it is Burford's intention to promote the use of rail and water as sustainable means of freight distribution and as our corporate contribution towards providing new logistics solutions for all industry sectors.


  Ports are an important infrastructure element in the logistics supply chain. In the Government's Consultation on Developing an Integrated Transport Policy: A Report, DETR 1998, it was stated that ports should play a full role in supporting the competitiveness of their regions. Furthermore, that any port development takes place in ways which are sympathetic to the surrounding natural environment and local communities; and that greater use is made of inland waterways as an alternative to road transport where this is a practical and economic option. In this document the Government stated it would explore the scope for making use of this environmentally attractive resource.


  A key plank of Government transport policy is to encourage more freight to be carried by alternative transport modes, such as rail and water. The daughter document Sustainable Distribution: A Strategy emphasises the desire for the best use made of inland waterways for transporting freight and to keep unnecessary lorries off the road. The Government has stated that the aim of its sustainable distribution strategy must be to ensure that the future development of the distribution industry does not compromise the future needs of society, the economy and environment.

  Burford agrees entirely with the sentiments expressed in Sustainable Distribution: A Strategy where it states, "Efficient intermodal transfer facilities are of critical importance to the success of shipping and waterways services. The best UK ports have an excellent record of performance, particularly bearing in mind the extensive state subsidies paid by our European partners for port facilities, dredging and navigation aids, which the European Commission has expressed concern about in its recent Green Paper. In some cases there is scope for further development as integrated distribution hubs, enhancing the basic intermodal transfer activities with storage, processing and manufacturing facilities on the same site". Needless to say this statement almost mirror images Burford's approach to developments at Cabot Park and proposed development for Trafford Interchange.


  On 18 October 1999 the DETR issued a draft document on Policy Planning Guidance 13—Transport (PPG13). Burford echoes the sentiments expressed in PPG13 relevant to water, whereby local authorities are asked to consider opportunities for new developments which are served by waterways and reference to encouraging more freight to be carried by water. However, while the Government is essentially committed to road and rail it would be interesting to clarify as to if PPG13 could be interpreted as devolving responsibility for water to the local authorities?


  Britain is a highly urbanised society with a high density of population and road traffic in the South-East, Midlands and North-West. According to transport statistics England's motorways and truck roads account for only 4 per cent of the national road network, but carry one-third of all traffic and two-thirds of all freight. If true, then this is not a satisfactory state of affairs and risks putting too many eggs in one basket. Indeed the situation has been confirmed in the mid-1990s with the release of Department of Transport congestion "stress" maps. These clearly indicated that at existing road traffic levels key parts of the country's motorway and truck road network would in forthcoming years be subjected to more road congestion and for longer time periods. In reality this situation is already reflected by the daily experience of millions of Britain's roads users.

  This congestion message was reconfirmed in maps published in the Government's recent Transport 2010: The Ten Year Plan. According to official statistics there will be a 30 per cent growth in traffic levels by 2010. In September 2000 the Highways Agency announced that the £1.2 billion expenditure measure being introduced by the Government to improve travel time on major roads may not be successful in cutting travel times. The best scenario was that journey times on motorways and trunk roads would be no longer than they were at present. A bleak prospect, again drawing attention to the urgent need for Government guidance and implementing action on alternative transport.


  Burford recognise that air pollution is a global and national concern and welcome moves at controlling CO2 emissions and measures aimed at energy conservation. The transport sector accounts for about 23 per cent of total CO2 emissions, and within this road traffic is one of the fastest growing sources. Transport also produces a number of other greenhouse gases. In this regard we would like to focus attention to the greater fuel economy of rail and water transport, both as a means of conserving fuel and reducing air pollution as indicated by the tables below.

CO2 emissions estimates for freight transport (g/tonne-km)

Transport mode
CO2 emissions
Inland Waterway
Source: European Commission (CEC), DG XI
Energy use for freight transport Transport Mode
Source: Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1994


  In the Government's 1998 paper British Shipping: Chartering a new course it was stated that according to estimates by the World Bank and others, expansion of world trade is expected to grow at the rate of 4 per cent per year over the next decade. This figure will almost double current volumes by the year 2010. Ports play a major role in the economy with over 95 per cent of goods entering Britain coming via water. Burford believes action needs to be implemented in terms of the following:

    —  capital investment in ports and water-freight related infrastructure; and

    —  capital investment and encouragement in new concept intermodal freight villages to provide improved operational efficient and cost effective (and environmentally friendly) options for the country's future logistics and distribution requirements—utilising a mixture of all transport modes to their maximum potential.

  Burford puts forward the argument that such actions will assist and ensure the country can commercially compete and share in the world-wide growth in trade.


  Burford's stance in respect of waterborne transport have been formulated against a two-fold background.

  First, from the perspective of practical experience gained in developing large scale multimodal freight develoments, such as Cabot Park and the proposed Trafford Interchange.

  Second, with reference to official transport and environmental publications covering the past decade. Without exception these official publications express concern about the role of transport in relation to the wider environment issues; global warming, air pollution, energy consumption and numerous other aspects. In all cases the claim is made for better use being sought from environmentally transport modes as part of the solution. We note that there is little new in the most recent of these official publications, such as Waterways for Tomorrow. The benefits and advantages of water freight are well documented in previous publications.

  The list of official publications which Burford has made reference to include:

    —  Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Eighteenth Report, Transport and the Environment, 1994. The Commission was particularly concerned about reducing the environmental impact of road transport and advocated a modal switch. Recommendations were made for rail and water (Chapter 10);

    —  A New Deal For Transport: Better For Everyone, 1998, the Government's White Paper;

    —  Sustainable Distribution: A Strategy, published in 1999 and sets out a long-term strategy for domestic freight distribution;

    —  Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Twenty-second Report, Energy—The Changing Climate, 2000. This is a major report which is critical of the lack of progress made in tackling fundamental issues which concern us all. Reference is made in Chapter 6 to the Government achieving a reduction in CO2 levels on the assumption (among other things) of a large increase in rail freight and a significant transfer of road freight to coastal shipping;

    —  Waterways for Tomorrow, 2000. The document recognises that Britain's larger river navigation and canals could take more traffic; and

    —  Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, 2000 which details financial expenditure over the next decade. The Government states that the 10 Year Plan will deliver the scale of resources required to put integrated transport into practice.


  Burford welcomes the Government's policy to encourage a greater take up of Freight Facilities Grants (FFGs) and also its intention to extend the scheme to coastal and short sea shipping as outlined in Waterways for Tomorrow. In general, there is some disappointment in seeing so little in the document in terms of solid proposal addressing the aspect of freight. This is strange in view of the Government's stated policy measures aimed at curbing road congestion levels, its commitment to reducing air pollution, improving energy efficiency and encouraging alternative transport modes. Specifically, there are a number of concerns we would like to address in relation to existing Government transport policy documentation and the aspect of inland waterways.

  First, we feel that the 2010 Transport Plan and Waterways for Tomorrow has not made adequate provision which will seriously encourage industry to make greater utilisation of inland waterways for the movement of freight in the foreseeable future. There is a lack of specifics on a policy or financial commitment to inland waterways freight contained in the 2010 document. In the Waterways for Tomorrow document attention is mainly focused on leisure activities, with little reference made to freight, other than general statements, the calling for an inquiry and the possibility of establishing a water freight study group. Of course, Burford will willingly participate in these enterprises and pass on knowledge or practical experience to the inquiry as requested.

  Second, the aspect of financial funding raises a major concern. For example, the 2010 document reveals that the bulk of future transport funding will be channelled into three areas: road, rail and local transport. The breakdown of total transport investment and expenditure financial over the next decade is as follows:

    strategic roads—£21.3 billion;

    railways—£60.4 billion;

    local transport—£58.9 billion;

    other transport—£2.2 billion; and

    unallocated—£9 billion.

  The relevance of the 10 year Transport Plan figures is that Other Transport includes seven elements; ports, shipping, road safety, support for cleaner vehicles, aviation, strategic transport, and transport security. There is no specific reference to what funding is allocated to inland-waterways and more importantly the freight element of inland waterways. This position is confused again if reference is made to other investment and expenditure plans detailed by the Government (July 2000) in its £180 billion 10 year investment plan to deliver an integrated transport system and figure of £15 billion to be held in reserve. Again no specific reference is made to inland waterways funding.

  Third, the regional fact sheets contained in the 2010 document indicate little vision or opportunity for commitment towards inland-water freight. For example, the only reference for the North West region is related to the Port of Liverpool Docks in terms of continuing expansion of new terminals and maximising the possibilities for moving freight by rail. No reference is made to the Manchester Ship Canal and its potential for deep inland freight penetration, its potential role as a modern logistics distribution hub and resulting environmental and integrated transport benefits.

  Turning to the South-West of the country, and as detailed in the 2010 document, we also welcome the reference made to the sustainable distribution of goods through the provision of up to six new intermodal freight transfer stations in Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire, Wiltshire Swindon and Avonmouth. However, we would like to have seen specific reference to waterborne freight in relation to Avonmouth Docks and the River Severn, which in the wider scheme of things can provide true multimodal (rail, road and water) freight transport. This, we believe, is integral to the Government's vision for an integrated and sustainable transport.

  Fourth, we welcome the setting up of multi-modal studies, which reject the old approach of focusing on one dimensional solutions and instead look at the contribution that all modes of transport and traffic management might make. The Government says it will take a comprehensive look at transport problems and offer solutions in which all types of transport can play a part. We wish to express a view on the South-East Manchester multi-modal study, which is looking at the current and future transport problems in the area, including the impact of the expansion of Manchester Airport and taking account of the completion of the M60 Manchester motorway box. According to the 2010 document this study has identified a number of deep-rooted problems which include:

    —  congestion on key radial and orbital routes;

    —  poor quality public transport in certain areas;

    —  pockets of deprivation and social exclusion; and

    —  if current trends continue, unsustainable economic, employment and development patterns.

  Among a number of long term measures mentioned that could be introduced by local authorities includes:

    —  improved interchanges between different types of transport for both passengers and freight.

  The Manchester Ship Canal is in close proximity to this part of South-East Manchester. Inter-linked with a road/rail interchange freight development can assist ease and alleviate freight movements in this area, and in a sustainable manner, in addition to bringing other welcome benefits.


  Burford, of course, acknowledges that inland waterways can only provide capacity to meet a small proportion of Britain's total freight requirements. Nonetheless, we believe there is scope to significantly increase this proportion, especially in view of the recent road fuel crisis. The expectation is to generate synergy and other untapped benefits between the different transport modes. There is an added urgency. The recent fuel crisis has made industry more conscious of the over dependence on road transport. Furthermore, how precarious the logistics supply chain can become, and in such a short space of time, when fuel supplies are threatened.

  In the light of the fuel crisis we believe that the logistics industry is already taking a wider and long term view of the options provided by rail and water. Indeed, the rational for modal switch has become clearer. As a result there is an on-going culture change taking place within industry on the future of freight movement. This is due to the ever growing fuel prices, worsening road congestion, driver shortages and other factors. If anything, the fuel crisis has jolted industry into seriously considering alternative and more sustainable transport modes. Changes in attitude and mind-set may create conditions which allow waterways to develop their full potential, thereby playing a greater role in Britain's modern logistics industry. We believe the Government can assist in this process by positive measures which include:

    —  highlighting even more the need for sustainable freight transport in the future and in particular a commitment by Government to water freight which is less minimal;

    —  giving a higher priority to waterborne transport, specifically devoting more attention to the development and forward planning for water freight in a similar fashion to the highly detailed commitments and plans made for rail and road, thereby strongly indicating Government support for water is not diminishing;

    —  making the Freight Facilities Grants easier to access, more flexible and wider in scope to encourage greater modal switch; and

    —  encouraging private/public partnerships in inland waterways, relevant to freight, in a similar manner as other transport modes.

  Burford wish to acknowledge the assistance given by Frank Worsford from the University of Westminster and Tom McNamara from the Maritime Research Centre at Southampton Institute in the preparation of this Memorandum. Finally, Burford would like to thank the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee for the opportunity to present evidence on this important subject.

John Anderson
Chief Executive, Burford Group Plc

25 September 2000

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