The hauliers' frien
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LOCAL AUTHORITIES' involvement with operators' applications is increasing steadily, not least in the West Midlands where the lorry represents 85 per cent of freight traffic, and the main way of bringing goods in and out of the county is by road, writes TIM COBB.
Trying to keep operators informed of what is happening in the transport industry, as well as looking after the interests of the environmental and residential areas, is the responsibility of Mike Habgood, principal engineer within the transport and engineering department of the West Midlands County Council.
"My terms of reference are to deal with planning for freight and commercial transport," he told me. And he does this admirably, having been indirectly mentioned in the Foster Report for his work with the WMCC, and having given guidance to the Armitage Report on how he viewed the transport situation in his and other counties.
The Government states that a county council should protect the environment against the adverse effects of lorries. "But this is a general charge. I want to see Regulations enforced in as balanced a manner as possible, and in a properly determined priority," Mr Habgood stressed.
"It is no good introducing Regulations that require an enforcement procedure — that is not possible," he explained. "My job is to make sure that the council keeps a balance between control on the highways and in the operating centres."
New powers brought in under Section 45 of the 1982 Transport Act which allow for objections to applications for operators' licences for environmental reasons, will not increase the burden on Mr Habgood as he says he has always taken into account the environmental problems.
"If a haulage company is in a bad location, we try and sort something out. A company might find it has no room for expansion. We will discuss the problem and if he wants an additional operating centre, perhaps even a shared premises or a space in a freight park, we will do our best to fix him up.
"But informing the Licensing Authority to try and get him moved is our last resort." There is the common occurrence of the driver leaving his vehicle parked outside his house at night. If this comes to Mr Habgood's attention by way of a formal complaint to his office or by filtering through from district council officers with whom he has a good understanding, he will take prompt action and contact the operator.
"It is often the case that the driver should have parked his vehicle at the operating centre. If so, then the matter can be solved by the driver receiving a ticking off from his boss," he told me.
But if the matter cannot be resolved by a phone call, he often has to pass it on to a higher authority. "I simply have not got the time," he explained. And once it reaches the higher ranks, the implication is that the matter is seen in a more serious light.
Mr Habgood has divided West Midlands into six areas and has a register showing him where every operator in the county is situated. He has calculated in an urban area such as Birmingham, two per cent of the land is taken up by freight and commercial transport. One per cent of the land is used for distribution and warehousing of freight, while the remaining one per cent is taken up by operating centres for commercial transport, garage and lorry parks.
In this way, the County Council can work out how the land can be used for the future.
"There is now more opportunity for suitable sites to be developed in urban areas because of the demise of many large factories," he said.
Several companies have expressed interest in developing a freight park of over 50 acres providing warehousing, storage, freight handling systems and other services in addition to a comprehensive range of commercial transport and drivers' requirements. There would also be space for a road/rail interchange.
At the moment there are only three patrolled freight parks in the West Midlands and these are privately operated. Midlands British Road Services and Wincanton Transport own one each, while the third is owned by a private coach operator and is called Coventry Coach and Lorry Park.
Mr Habgood publicises these parks through printed leaflets that he distributes to trade organisations, local council offices and most places where a driver might find himself.
Leaflets rather than magazines were chosen because they are much easier to update and easier to read.
The Freight Transport Association's regional office at Dudley has no real worries as to the way in which the WMCC operates. Martin Richards, Midlands regional controller told me: "We are generally very happy with the way the county council has carried out its business. It recognises the vital role the lorry plays in the county."
Commenting on Section 45, of the 1982 Act, Mr Richards said: "The clause, as it is put, is a potential danger, but I feel that most local authorities believe in a reasonable course of action. The WMCC is very good in this respect."
Parking in the West Midlands is not easy. There are a lot of regulations put out by the local councils, but they do realise that lorries need to be there, Mr Richards explained. "You cannot say 'Let's stop lorry parking'. Alternative facilities must be made available.
"I also think that, apart from being the manager of the community, the county council is the guardian of the environment. So if a local authority lives up to these credentials, it will realise that one does not eliminate the problem, but finds an alternative to suit the needs of the environment and the operator."
Mike Habgood has a good approach to it. "He is broadening his scope for the whole transport needs of industry. His publications are examples of this."
"In his broad approach, Mr Habgood sees not only the role of the lorry, but also the environmental needs," Mr Richards pointed out. "If he objects to a place of operation of a haulage company, then the FTA knows he has looked at all aspects of the case. In no way do we see him as the enemy.
"In his own quiet way he is doing a lot. Most of all, he knows that the lorry plays a vital role in the community," he said.