Monday 30 August 2021

Environment Monday - A quick look at sustainable supply chain delivery systems

 The UK is facing post Brexit shortages in supermarkets, as a result of the effect of #Brexit and Covid. One of the stated reasons is the shortage of HGV drivers. It got me to think whether there was an opportunity for the UK to have a look at the way we manage our supply chain. If there are not enough Lorry drivers, we have a choice. This is either to train up more drivers or alternatively to see if there is another way of organising how we get deliveries distributed around the UK. 

I recently watched a short video by Orion Logistics, demonstrating a new system of delivery using train and cargo bike pallets. I found this quite intriguing in light of the problems we are having. This solution means that 60-70 vans can be replaced  with a single train and a fleet of e-bikes.

This would massively reduce the number of van/lorry movements in the UK. It got me thinking about the new Google distribution depot that is being built on Pentavia Retail Park. It seems to me a real shame that this couldn't be sited somewhere with a direct rail link, as bulk deliveries by rail, with onward doorstep deliveries by ebike couriers would seem an absolute win win. Although the depot will be about 40 metres from the railway line, the M1 motorway runs between the two. The depot is not well sited for lorry deliveries. It is on the northbound carriageway of the A1, meaning that a huge number of lorries will have to go back on themselves either before or after collection/drop-offs. 

The only way we will get more sustainable delivery mechanisms such as the Orion system to be adopted will be to make it more financially amenable to the companies to have rail connections and to use E-bikes and other sustainable solutions. I would like to see an overhaul of the planning process, so that companies involved in distrubution have a strong incentive to develop sustainable solutions. Planning depots with rail connections and an investment in local cycling/e-bike infrastructure should be made a prerequisite when planning any depot, unless this was geographically unfeasable. Suitable sites with good rail connections should be protected from housing developments, so that rail distribution is able to grow. 

As to more local deliveries, I have long been an advocate of E-bikes and scooters. We are pleased to note that three years after we advocated it, Domino's pizza in Mill Hill have finally adopted the idea. When they applied for planning permission for the Mill Hill outlet, these were our comments

1. All deliveries under 1 mile must be made using bicycle deliveries, as most environmentally responsible delivery services are seeking to do, unless the size of order precludes this.

2. All deliveries which are of a size, distance or volume too large for a cycle courier, should be delivered by couriers using electric cargo bikes.

3. If there is a requirement for car or moped deliveries, these vehicles should be electric to minimise noise and pollution.

4. Delivery drivers in cars must not play music at any time when parked or waiting in Mill Hill Broadway. This will be a written into contracts as a breach of terms of emplyment and any driver caught breaking these rules will be dismissed.

5. All local residents affected by noise will be given a hotline number to senior Dominos Pizza representatives so that any breaches can be reported easily and dealt with immediately.

As ever we seem to be a bit ahead of the game. We ascertained that Barnet Council did not even try and get Domino's to go electric at the time.  I believe that sustainable, low carbon supply chains are achieveable, but they need political will. When motoring advocates moan about cycle lanes etc, they are ignoring the fact that it takes time for new infrastructure to be adopted. You need a proper joined up network and you need people to overcome their fear of traffic to adopt it. If we could move cargo to these lanes on cargo bikes, that will remove a lot of traffic from the roads, freeing up space for those motorists who can't or won't cycle. It's all really a question of how long we want to take to get there. When we deal with private companies in a Capitalist society, they change only when it is in the interests of their profitability to do so. Tax breaks for sustainable options and penalties for pollution and congestion has to be the way to go. 

I am a big fan of the idea of starting this at the planning stage. That way you don't suddenly impose huge costs on companies, they simply build it into their plans as they submit them. The only way London will work in 50 years time is if we have far more sustainable transport systems. We need to build this in to the planning process. The last five years has seen an explosion of on line delivery companies. This has added a huge number of car, van and courier journeys. This has happened in a chaotic manner and the government has no policies on how to make it work for a sustainable community. The sad thing is that with a bit of foresight, it could actually work quite well. I am sure that the fledgling Orion model needs a lot of work, but surely a bike courier working from a train station doing short run deliveries is cheaper and more sustainable than a van, if it can be made to work. It is far easier to recruit/train cycle couriers than HGV drivers, so it musts surely be a way out of our problems. We have to start thinking about these issues. Working as a cycle courier is an ideal part time job for students etc, which would also help them with their hard pressed finances. In all a win/win. 

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