PRESSURE BUILDS ON
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WHAT are the prospects for overnight lorry parks? This month a. man from outside the transport business has opened a park for up to 200 lorries without any financial help, and he expects to make money from the venture.
And a report was sent to the Department of Transport last week setting out the policy issues involved in transit parks for lorries. The authors believe that some form of subsidy is needed to provide parks where they are most needed.
Meanwhile, motorway serVice area operators are pressing the DTp to help them expand their areas for lorry parking at some sites.
The issue of lorry parking away from base affects everyone: operators, drivers, the police and the public. Road safety, hygiene, noise, vehicle security, pay rates, operational convenience and standards for drivers arc all factors. And the issue is gaining in sensitivity all the time.
Sleeper cabs have become the norm on artics, and are becoming more popular further down the weight range. The growing motorway network has increased the efficiency of lorries in transporting goods, but the provision of places for them to stop, particularly overnight, has failed to keep pace with changing traffic patterns and the consequent disappearance of traditional transport cafes.
More and more lorries are looking for less and less space. There is a growing feeling that in some cases the problem is so acute that it is getting out of control_ Police are concerned about illegal parking in lay-bys, both of lorries and the mobile caravans that have proliferated to provide snacks for drivers. Residents complain of pavement fouling and noisy fridge vans running all night.
Local authorities are increasing pressure to get lorries off the streets, with overnight parking bans being the most obvious signs of active steps taken against lorries. But pressure comes in other ways as well. As areas are redeveloped, traditional parking areas, on rough ground or areas used by cars during the day, are often not replaced_ This was the situation facing the industry in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, when a busy car park in the town was closed. Lcs Duerden, a local accountant who ran his own outside catering operation and had no connection with road transport, saw that the lorries using the park would have nowhere else to go, and has opened his own site with a bar and showers for drivers. Shell diesel tanks are being put in and should be open soon. "As far as I'm concerned, if you put on what lorry drivers want — decent lounge areas, and showers that work — they will come to you." Drivers have been treated as second-class citizens and want standards a little above the typical transport cafe, he said last week.
Over the first three weeks, he has averaged 25 lorries a night, including the quiet Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (The Nuneaton park will shortly be signposted off the M6, junction 3. Follow signs to Nuneaton on the A444, and it is signposted from there.) The park is three miles away from the M6. Mr Duerden believes that drivers will come off the motorway, both for mandatory breaks during the day and at night, rather than stop at motorway service areas.
His company, Nuneaton Lorry Park, has set up the park on a purely commercial basis, without any financial help from the local authority.
He is confident the venture will be a commercial success. ("I can look after • the food and the books at the same time.") But he concedes that the viability of the project depends on local land prices.
His park, which charges the going rate of3 a night, joins a growing but still small number of modern truckstops. The closest to the Nuneaton park is probably the BRS Midlands' park near Chesterfield, off the Ml.
Five years ago, when the Chesterfield truck stop opened, it has had an uphill struggle to recoup the initial cost of a high-grade site. For some time the company believed it would only bring in enough to cover its running cost, but it has been running successfully for the past two years.
It is the extra facilities beyond the initial parking charge which make lorry parks commercially viable. The Tayside Truckstop in Dundee provides catering to a. quality which has made it popular with managers from neighbouring industrial units and with local residents.
But these sites are still the exception rather than the rule. Outside the docks, motorway service areas remain the most used source of secure and civilised parking — albeit less attractive for the driver, and usually more expensive.
It is more than three years now since motorway service area operators, the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association made a three-way representation to the Department of Transport, asking for help, to relieve overcrowding in some service areas at night.
"In some cases overcrowding has eased, in others it remains the same," said Tony Monnickendan, head of THF Catering. Scratchwood on the Ml and Heston on the M4 are two trouble spots which have improved with the development of the M25, he said.
The demand from operators and drivers is still strong, and the motorway service area operators are seeking more land for overcrowded sites, but Mr Monnickendan points out: "The areas were not intended to provide overnight parking for lorries." They were originally intended to provide a short stopping point for travellers, he said.
The £3 charged at some sites is "very reasonable," according to Mike Taylor, chairman of the RHA's highways and traffic committee. An economic price in some places could be as much as £10. The msas help to keep lorries out of towns by providing a secure area on the drivers route.
One aspect of motorway service areas about which he less happy, however, is the stranglehold that franchised garages have over hauliers on the service bays, so that drivers have. to use them even for minor repairs. Nor are the operators of faulty lorries allowed to call out their own repair agents, with whom they may have an account.
Six months of writing letters and making telephone calls to the insa operators' informal association has failed to provoke a response. The RHA describes this as "gross discourtesy", and has taken the matter up with the DTp.
The whole question of parking and facilities that might be provided at parks has been reviewed in detail in a report. Its co-authors are Derek Wright of the Centre for Transport Studies, CranfieId, who has researched the BRS park at Chesterfield, and Dave Allen, managing director of the Winchester-based bulk buying co-operative, ROADS.
Mr Allen commented: "Demand is strongly conditioned by drivers' perceptions of what they need. Both the driver and his employer are looking for improved efficiency, a better image and, in consequence, better facilities. But they will use them only if prices are realistic in relation to those charged and the no-pay alternatives.
"At present, the operation of planning controls sees to it that sites adjacent to the primary route network, which is where they are needed, are not available unless they are already zoned for industrial, commercial or housing purposes. Such sites are priced well beyond the practical reach of a lorry facility operator."
The answer is for government, at whatever level, to allow the development of the land at less than the market price. "Lynda Chalker justifies paying a bonus to the contractors who finished their work on the Ml early because of the reduced social cost, There is a similar case to be made on lorry parking," said Mr Wright. "The viability of lorry parks ought to depend on the sum of the financial, economic and social effects," says the report. "However, the reality of the situation is the extent to which those affected are prepared and able to pay for benefits and accept losses."
"It has become apparent that very little is known about the most suitable strategic locations of lorry parks. Despite research into, for instance, hgv traffic to and from ports, discussion with police forces, research into overweight ligys and driver requirements at stops, no generalised estimates of why and where drivers choose or need to stop are available."
'The ROADS/Cranfield report gives detailed figures on the costs of a site. The cost of a park alone, before interest but including toilet and administration/security block would be £800,000. Commercial activities would add a further £1.6m, comprising a catering block at £500,000, accommodation block with 50 bedrooms at £560,000, a fuel island at £300,000 (four pumps and canopy), and a repair and recovery unit at £250,000.
Derek Wright is aware of the problems of identifying traffic flows in order to identify the best sites for lorry parks although he believes that British Rail might be interested in the results! He insists that there are a few sites which could support an advanced lorry park.
In the future the increasing use of "plastic money" will encourage operators to use recognised vehicle stops, he believes.
Financial relationships beween drivers and employers are an important aspect of research into the viability of parks, the report says.
Overnight subsistance payments are likely to be an area paid increasing attention by the Inland Revenue. At present £12.70 may be paid without tax being imposed, but there are fears in the industry that conditions may be tightened.
At the same time receipts issued at stops are becoming more formal.
Provision of beds at stops is still very rare, and most of the drivers who take advantage of them — at a cost of around £.5 a night — work for own-account operators.
The ROADS/Cranfield report makes little mention of hazardous loads, which is an area of parking where the theory has gone well ahead of reality. Drivers are supposed to park at sitcs approved for dangerous loads, hut they do not exist.
Mr Allen commented: "I hope that the principles emerge clearly and with adequate justification for the Minister to be impressed that there is a need for a positive response from the Department of Transport. That response would, no doubt, seek to involve the county and regional councils, many of which are already looking for Ministerial help in resolving lorry parking problems on trunk roads. The objective must be a joint approach."
Initial reactions are less than enthusiastic, however. Official DTp comments include the suggestion that drivers faced with a crowded motorway service area need only drive off the motorway to find somewhere to park.
Government policy since the late Seventies has been that the industry must solve the problem of finding somewhere to park. The prospect of the present administration spending money to subsidise lorry park operators is remote indeed, and British Rail would no doubt have a publicity field day if it ever did change its mind.
The DTp probably just wants the problem to go away for as long as possible without it having to take any action. But the problem of overnight parking is not going to disappear, and the road haulage industry will go on delivering goods irrespective of where lorries have to park up. A few more decent truckstops, though, would make life a bit more comfortable all round.